Residents pack Stonington shellfish meeting to oppose oyster farm

Stonington — More than 100 Quiambaug Cove residents and their attorneys packed the tiny Town Hall meeting room and the hallway outside it Thursday night to again let the Shellfish Commission know they oppose an application for a commercial oyster farming operation in a small section of the cove.

While commission Chairman Don Murphy told them he would have to postpone Thursday’s meeting because the crowd had exceeded fire code regulations, the commission did spend about 30 minutes fielding questions and concerns from residents and their lawyers about the process for evaluating and making a decision on the application.

The commission had been slated to not only accept general public comment at the meeting but to discuss the application with Dana Lewis of Milford, a part-time Lords Point resident, who wants to place 300,000 to 400,000 eastern oyster seed on the bottom of the southwestern section of the cove and then dredge them up by hand when they grow to about 50 millimeters in size. No gear would be placed in the cove.

The oysters then would be placed off Enders Island to grow to maturity, which is the subject of a separate and not yet completed application.

Cove residents are worried that allowing commercial activity in the cove for the first time would lead to more commercial operations and decrease property values. They also have said the project would infringe on a channel used by small boaters. There is no officially marked channel in the cove.

On Thursday, Lewis said he has reworked his application so that the oysters will now be out of the channel and along a sand bar. Because the oysters will now be subject to wider dispersal because of the shallower water he is seeking to farm 1.7 acres of the cove instead of the original .69 acres.

Some lawyers and residents on Thursday referred to a lawsuit they would file to block the project if it was approved with one asking how Lewis’ endeavor would make money if he has to pay legal fees. Lewis stood along the wall and did not comment, although his lawyer did comment on some questions from the crowd.

This was the third meeting in which opponents have spoken out against the proposal. They have also sent numerous letters to the commission.

Murphy tried to assure the skeptical opponents that the commission’s process is an open one and all their comments would be considered at an advertised public hearing. He explained that if the commission feels the application is a valid one, it would assign it a formal application number and then schedule a public hearing which would have several weeks notice.

He said he would make sure to have a larger space for the commission’s next meeting in which it would discuss the application with Lewis and possibly assign it a formal application number and schedule a public hearing. No date is set yet for that meeting.

Murphy said he tried to get the much larger police station meeting room for Thursday’s meeting, but it was already reserved. That space, however, may not be big enough, necessitating a meeting in the high school auditorium or the Mystic Middle School cafeteria where larger meetings are held.

Opponents are also upset that the commission works with applicants to help refine their application and address concerns such as those expressed by the neighbors before one is officially accepted for a public hearing. But commission members said the process is similar to the one town planning staff uses to help developers refine their applications so they meet regulations before a formal application is made.

Because the Shellfish Commission does not have any staff to help it as does the Planning and Zoning Commission, members take on that responsibility.

“We’re trying to make this go as smoothly as possible and be as open as possible. We’re not on anyone’s side,” said commission member John Swenarton.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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