Shellfish commission prepares to rescind nursery license
Waterford — The agreement between a two-town shellfish commission and a local shellfish farmer giving him access to 6.5 acres in the Niantic River likely will be reversed Thursday after nearby residents pushed back and Waterford's attorney determined the deal was improperly made.
The Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission has jurisdiction over shellfishing activity in the Niantic River, which runs between the two towns and is where Tim Londregan wants to grow oysters and scallops before moving them into the Niantic Bay to grow to maturity.
Londregan, who has applications related to the project pending before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Departments of Aquaculture and Energy and Environmental Protection, entered into an agreement last year with the shellfish commission that Waterford's town attorney now says was done improperly and without proper oversight.
If he gets permission from the various town, state and federal agencies that have jurisdiction over the river, Londregan hopes to place immature oysters and scallops into the water, letting them grow to a larger size in 15-inch-tall metal racks in the river before moving some back out to the Niantic Bay to grow to market size.
The commission established six areas in the river in 2002 that it could temporarily lease to prospective commercial shellfish farmers.
The agreement with Londregan would have given him access to a seventh, 6.5-acre parcel near the Mago Point area on the Waterford side of the river, an area that the commission determined would pose the least disruption to boaters and recreational shellfishing.
"Obviously, we were wrong," commission Chairman Peter Harris said Wednesday.
Local residents and town officials say the deal was developed without the input of either of the attorneys for the two towns or members of the public, that they weren't adequately notified and that the proposed project would pose safety and environmental hazards and impact tourism in the area.
A discussion among the residents of Mago Point and Niantic only began when the Army Corps of Engineers sent a public notice in August to homeowners near the river.
Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward said he supports Londregan's efforts but said the shellfish commission's seven members didn't include officials from either town or the public when it wrote the agreement with Londregan.
At its meeting Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in East Lyme's Town Hall, the commission will consider whether to rescind the agreement it made with Londregan.
"Tomorrow night is about, do you basically want to consider redoing or revoking the agreement," Steward said Wednesday. "We can back up a bit and come up with a procedure for you. We've got to coordinate that."
Londregan said he plans to work with the commission and Waterford Town Attorney Robert Avena to rewrite an agreement with more public input. He claims his project would improve the health of the river and promote recreational shellfishing in the Niantic, which has not consistently provided a stock of shellfish for recreational collection in the past decade.
The Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission decided not to issue recreational scalloping permits for the winter season this year because there weren't enough scallops in the river big enough to catch.
Whether in one of the six established areas available for experimental leases with the shellfish commission, or a different area in the river, Londregan said he still plans to follow through on his plans.
"I am not leaving," he said. "Clearly (the shellfish commission) wants to promote aquaculture and the betterment of recreational shellfish in the area."
Harris said the commission, which has until recently largely only been charged with issuing recreational shellfishing permits, did not follow the proper procedures when Londregan first came to the board last year. He said he plans to restart the process in a more open way.
"We would like to work with all the interested parties," Harris said.
The application for access to the river through the shellfish commission, now under intense scrutiny by town officials, Avena and local residents, also likely will need approval from the harbor commission in either Waterford or East Lyme, depending on its location in the river, as well as oversight from town officials in the appropriate town.
Londregan's pending applications with state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers still are under review.
Cori Rose, a project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers, said Tuesday that the Corps plans to hold a public hearing Dec. 7 in Waterford's Town Hall to collect public input about Londregan's application.
The details of the application may change along with Londregan's agreement with the shellfish commission, she said.
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