Relocate Niantic River shellfish hatchery plan

Tim Londregan holds live juvenile scallops while talking about opening a shellfish hatchery on the Niantic River off Mago Point while aboard his Niantic Bay Shellfish Farm vessel berthed on the river Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Tim Londregan holds live juvenile scallops while talking about opening a shellfish hatchery on the Niantic River off Mago Point while aboard his Niantic Bay Shellfish Farm vessel berthed on the river Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

In a prior editorial, we expressed excitement about the positive aspects of the plan by businessman Tim Londregan to install a racking system to grow oysters and scallops in the Niantic River off Mago Point. The editorial noted, however, that despite the merits of the proposal it needed to move through the appropriate regulatory process. It turns out that it did not. If it had, legitimate concerns would have been raised about the planned location.

Recognizing its mistakes, the Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission rescinded the 2016 agreement it had reached with Londregan.

In 2002, the commission created six areas in the river for potential lease to commercial shell fishermen, such as Londregan. But in entertaining his proposal, it created a seventh area, giving Londregan access to a 6.5-acre shallow section of river.

The commission now recognizes it did not follow proper procedures in making such a major decision. There was no notice to property owners along that portion of the river, no public hearing, no consultation with attorneys for the towns. Elected leaders were left in the dark.

The racks planned by Londregan would have rested just under the surface at high tide and been exposed during low tide. While the shallow sandbar is outside the channel and not used by larger craft, jet skiers cross it as do paddle craft. Critics of the plan raise valid fears about the potential for a Jet Ski accident and concerns about small paddle craft being forced into the channel with large sport fishing and recreational power boats.

It does seem an odd fit.

Less persuasive are comments from those who said they do not want to look out at Londregan working his shellfish harvesting operation, with its rows of racks exposed during low tide. That NIMBY reaction comes from an elitist attitude that sees the water as the domain and exclusive vista of shoreline property owners.

Laborers have long worked our waters and Londregan only seeks to carry on that tradition.

Londregan, who also owns a Niantic Bay oyster farm and has worked for a Fishers Island shellfish hatchery for three years, plans to continue pursuing his proposal. If so, the process begins again. Optimistically, one of the existing six areas already designated for commercial shellfishing will prove adequate or, if not, a new area can be found that does not cause the problems that exist off Mago Point.

The shellfisherman wants to start the oysters and scallops in a controlled setting before moving them into Niantic Bay to reach maturity. An added benefit will be the seeding of scallops elsewhere in the river, once known for the delectable mollusks. The ability of the shellfish to filter water would help maintain water quality. Last winter season, the shellfish commission did not issue any recreational scalloping permits because of a scarcity of mature scallops.

The permit process is a challenging one, with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers having to sign off. When followed correctly, the process provides adequate protections and opportunities for public input.

It would seem, however, that the Army Corps of Engineers should postpone its Dec. 7 public hearing at Waterford Town Hall on Londregan's original proposal. Why gather comments on a project that now seems certain — if Londregan builds it at all — to end up elsewhere with a resulting altered design?

As of now, the hearing is on, beginning at 6 p.m.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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