Shellfish commission rescinds agreement with farmer, pledges future transparency

Ryan Londregan empties a tray of seed oysters on Aug. 17, 2017.  An agreement allowing Londregan's brother, Tim, to use a part of the Niantic River to grow shellfish was rescinded Thursday. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Ryan Londregan empties a tray of seed oysters on Aug. 17, 2017. An agreement allowing Londregan's brother, Tim, to use a part of the Niantic River to grow shellfish was rescinded Thursday. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

East Lyme — The Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission rescinded its 2016 agreement with a local man who wants to grow scallops and oysters in the Niantic River, pledging at a meeting Thursday to start over with more transparency and input from other local officials.

"We will rework that as soon as we can," commission Chairman Peter Harris said Thursday night at the meeting in East Lyme's Town Hall that was attended by Waterford and East Lyme residents and business owners, Waterford's town attorney, Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward and state Rep. Holly Cheeseman.

The shellfish commission, which for much of its two decades of existence was mostly responsible for selling recreational shellfishing permits, developed the agreement in 2016 allowing Tim Londregan to use more than six acres of space in the Niantic River to grow juvenile shellfish before moving them into the Niantic Bay.

It also created a parcel — outside the six designated shellfishing areas created in 2002 that it could temporarily lease to prospective commercial shellfish farmers — to accommodate Londregan's needs.

Londregan, who attended Thursday's meeting but did not speak, has said his project would allow him to expand his business while improving the ecological health of the river, which has yielded inconsistent crops of shellfish for recreational collection in the past several years.

But the agreement he made with the shellfish commission was never vetted by town officials in East Lyme or Waterford, by the Waterford Harbor Management Commission or in a public hearing.

And so when a separate notice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived in some local residents' mailboxes in August, they said it was the first they were hearing of it, and pushed back.

Placing shellfishing equipment in the area approved by the shellfish commission could make the river unsafe for boaters and have adverse effects on the river, tourism to Mago Point and Niantic and the "character" of the river, local homeowners and businesspeople said.

At the same time, Waterford Town Attorney Robert Avena found that the shellfish commission's agreement was not made with sufficient legal advice or public input, and should be rescinded.

The commission voted unanimously Thursday night to rescind both the agreement with Londregan and the 2016 creation of the extra shellfishing area, though the commission left open the possibility that they could recreate a new shellfishing area in the future to accommodate Londregan or another prospective commercial shellfishing business.

That could include a portion of the 6.5-acre area designated for Londregan's use that was rescinded Thursday, a piece of the river close to the Mago Point boat launch and the Waterford shore of the river.

"My opinion is that (that area) is the least intrusive in the river," commission member Erik Kanter said.

Several people who claimed to be familiar with boating and shellfishing in the river disagreed.

"I've been there, and it's very busy — crowded even," said Ellen Fratus, a Mago Point resident.

"(That area) is the best clamming area, I don't care what anyone says," said Stanley Parchaiski. "Come with me in the wintertime sometime, and I'll show you how many clams are there."

Londregan said he plans to apply for a new agreement to use a part of the river for aquaculture while his applications with state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers are pending.

This time, Avena told the commission, they will be required to consult with the harbor commissions in East Lyme and Waterford, hold a public hearing and publicly advertise any possible change to its policies.

"This will be on the agenda for many months to come," Harris said.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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