Oysters vs. vacationers

SURRY — Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher has denied requests by two groups of Morgan Bay shorefront property owners to delay an experimental aquaculture lease until a court rules on their appeals of the department’s lease decision.

In September 2011, Joseph Porada applied to the DMR for a three-year experimental aquaculture lease to raise oysters and clams in upper Morgan Bay. The department approved the lease in May. Last month, two groups of landowners filed appeals from that approval in Superior Court and asked the department to stay issuing the lease while the court considered their appeals.

For the DMR to grant a stay, the landowners had to show that they would suffer “irreparable injury” if the lease weren’t delayed, that there was a “strong likelihood” that they would win their appeal in court, and that it would cause “no substantial harm” to Porada or the general public. According to Keliher’s decisions, they failed to meet all of those criteria.

Landowners Nicholas Sichterman and Maria Hughs claimed that they would be unable to rent their seasonal shorefront cottage, located just to the north of the lease site, citing two frequent tenants who said they would not return.

Keliher determined that was not the kind of “water-related” use the law requires the DMR to consider. “Many factors affect the rental market,” Keliher wrote, and the cottage owners are “no more guaranteed commercial success” than Porada is.

Under the lease, Porada is allowed to install various bottom and floating bags and cages with a “combined surface area” of about one-fifth of an acre. All of the gear has to be removed from the site between mid-November and mid-April each year.

The landowners’ appeals are pending in Kennebec County Superior Court.

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