DMR issues split decision in Bagaduce River oyster farm fight



PENOBSCOT — If a fair deal is one that leaves all parties to the negotiation unhappy, with its tentative decision to allow a new oyster farm in the Bagaduce River, the Department of Marine Resources may well have reached the fairest deal in all the land.

In October 2015, Taunton Bay Oyster Co. applied to DMR for a 10-year aquaculture lease on three tracts encompassing some 23.75 acres near Northern Bay in the upper part of the Bagaduce River for the purpose of growing oysters. The company currently operates on two lease sites in Taunton and Hog bays.

In late January and early February 2017, DMR held a three-day public hearing on the company’s application. At the hearing, Michael Briggs, Taunton Bay’s president, presented the company’s proposal. That evoked strong opposition from a variety of interests — the owners of a small island on the border of the proposed lease site, riparian landowners from the area, the town of Penobscot and its shellfish and alewife committees, among others.

Objections ranged from complaints about the impact the lease operations would have on wildlife and nature studies on the nearby islands to concerns about the impacts on seals and shorebirds in the area, interference with shellfishing and alewife restoration and heightened danger to kayakers and other small craft operators navigating the waters around the proposed lease.

In late July, some 17 months after the hearing ended, DMR issued a proposed decision on the lease application that seems likely to please no one. The proposed decision was sent to the company, the town and intervening parties Caren Plank and William McWeeny for a 10-day comment period, now closed.

Subject to any comments the department may accept, DMR will grant a lease to Taunton Bay Oyster Co., for just two of the three tracts it requested, and one of those at a reduced size.

DMR denied a lease for the northernmost tract — 3.54 acres — the company asked for, lying closest to Aunt Mollie and Sparks islands east of Wardwell Point. The department also reduced the size of a second tract from 4.84 acres to 3.64 acres to provide safer access to Sparks Island.

If finally granted, the lease also will contain several restrictions on where and how the company can conduct its operations.

The decision restricts when and where Taunton Bay may set suspended oyster cages, bans setting any gear on the bottom of the most southeasterly lease tract and prohibits any dragging for oysters or the use of any power washing equipment on the site.

Just when DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher will sign a final lease decision was unclear as of early this week, but it should be soon. The proposed decision was sent out for a 10-day comment period on July 27, so DMR should have received all comments by Aug. 6.

The final decision may not be the last word though. Taunton Bay, Plank or McWeeny could file an appeal to the Superior Court within 30 days after the decision is issued if they are sufficiently dissatisfied.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]