Quiambaug Cove residents fighting proposed oyster operation

Residents who live along the shore of Quiambaug Cove are opposing plans for a commercial oyster operation in the lower western section of the cove, seen Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Joe Wojtas/The Day)
Residents who live along the shore of Quiambaug Cove are opposing plans for a commercial oyster operation in the lower western section of the cove, seen Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Joe Wojtas/The Day)

Stonington — A group of Quiambaug Cove homeowners is opposing an application by a part-time Lord’s Point resident to start a commercial oyster farming operation in a small section of the cove.

Dana Lewis, also of Milford, has applied for a permit from the Shellfish Commission and a decision is pending.

Lewis said he does not plan to use any type of gear but will place 300,000 to 400,000 eastern oyster seed on the bottom of a 0.69-acre area in the southwestern section of the cove and then dredge them up when they grow to about 50 millimeters in size. The site is located next to the Avalonia Land Conservancy's Knox Preserve off Wilcox Road.

He then will transfer the oysters to a 2.5-acre area west of Enders Island, where they will grow until harvest. By his fourth or fifth year in business, Lewis projects he will harvest 700,000 oysters a year.

Lewis said that while he will use a skiff with an outboard motor to access the site, he will harvest the oysters by wading in the shallow water, which he said is only navigable by paddleboard and kayaks and is not in the channel used by recreational boaters.

But cove residents, who have spoken against the application at two recent commission meetings, say there is no commercial activity in the cove now and allowing Lewis’ project will lead to more.

“A commercial oyster operation will fundamentally change the look, feel and sound of what all of us who live on or near the cove love about it,” David Motherway of Wilcox Cove wrote in a letter to cove neighbors.

Shellfish Commission Chairman Donald Murphy said that when residents express concerns about an application, the commission hopes the applicant can take them into consideration and modify the application to address them.

He said that at the commission’s next meeting, on Oct. 5, members may accept the final application from Lewis and then schedule a public hearing which likely would be held in November or December.

Lewis said he spent a year researching possible locations for his operation. He said he looked at other sites with similar bottom and water conditions but they already were taken by larger companies.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought it would cause a huge problem for the residents,” Lewis said.

He said the site is a good one because the bottom is made of gravel and sand, is shallow, has good water flow and is protected. He said the entire cove was once a commercial shellfishing area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He said his operation is an environmentally sustainable one, as he will not rely on heavy equipment and will not generate noise or odors. In addition, he said, some of his seed oysters will flow out of the cove and into the recreational shellfish grounds just south of the railroad bridge.

His application states that he has no plans to acquire more acreage but could in the future expand vertically through the water column and change his methodology. He said he would bring any proposed changes to the commission for approval.

He said that he has tried to look at the proposal from the perspective of the cove neighbors but added, “I think they just don’t want any commercial activity out there.”

Motherway’s letter points out that Lewis’ application “initially” involves farming just one part of the cove. He said that it is in the middle of the most commonly used channel which is just 12 to 18 inches deep at low tide. There is no officially marked channel in the cove.

“The current use of the cove both within the proposed site and essentially any other site in the lower and upper coves favor existing long term use by cove residents that are incompatible with current oyster aquaculture practices,” he states in his letter to neighbors. “Oyster aquaculture methods will render acres of the cove useless for highly popular recreational past times such as water skiing, kayaking, crabbing, swimming and transiting all areas of the cove by watercraft to conduct such activities.”

In addition, he said use of the cove for commercial activity could result in riparian rights violations for neighbors, and the site could become an “attractive nuisance” since the oysters could easily be seen by the increasing number of waders and swimmers he said access the cove from the Knox Preserve.

“Although the proposal focuses on the lower cove (initially), for those of you who live in the upper cove, you must remember that once commercial aquaculture gets started, in time it will show up offshore of your front yard,” wrote Motherway, who could not be reached for comment Thursday. He added that the deeper water of the upper cove, located north of Route 1, would be better for raising shellfish.

He also encouraged residents who feel their property values will be decreased by the “oyster farm” to write Tax Assessor Marsha Standish.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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