Stonington commission to again discuss controversial oystering plan on Thursday

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 large crowd is expected in the Mystic Middle School cafeteria Thursday night as the Shellfish Commission continues it discussion with a part-time Lord's Point man who has a controversial plan to grow and harvest oysters in a small section of Quiambaug Cove.

Both opponents and supporters of the application by Dana Lewis have been circulating petitions and at last month’s commission meeting, the third on the topic, more than a 100 people jammed the small Town Hall meeting room and adjacent hallway to oppose the plan.

The interest has forced the commission to move Thursday’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. to the much larger middle school cafeteria which hosts monthly Planning and Zoning Commission meetings. No decision will be made on the application and no public hearing will be held Thursday. Residents, however, are allowed to make brief comments on agenda before the commission tackles its monthly agenda.

Commission Chairman Donald Murphy said Sunday that members plan to discuss Lewis’ revised application with him during Thursday's meeting. While some at last month’s meeting were critical of the discussions, Murphy said it is common practice for his commission to review a permit application with an applicant before the commission formally accepts it and schedules a public hearing.

Murphy said the discussions help the commission understand what an applicant wants to do and if it fits in an area where the commission is willing to issue a permit. In addition, it also allows the applicant to find out if he or she needs to obtain state approval, which is required when gear is involved.

In the case of Lewis, who plans to grow juvenile shellfish on the bottom and harvest them later with no gear, the commission is the agency that will issued the necessary permit.

Murphy said the public hearing process is both time consuming and costly for both the applicant and the commission so it is better to first discuss the application with the applicant before it progresses to the hearing stage.

The process is similar to the one employed by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has applicants discuss their plans with town planning staff or the commission before submitting an application and a public hearing is scheduled. This is done to avoid the cost and time needed to prepare for and hold a hearing if the applicant does not meet the necessary requirements.

Murphy could not say if the commission would accept Lewis’ application on Thursday and schedule a public hearing, saying that would depend on how the discussions go.

Lewis of Milford, a part-time Lords Point resident, 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. 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 are also worried the project would infringe on a channel used by small boaters. There is no officially marked channel in the cove.
At last month's meeting, 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.
Lawyers and residents at last month's meeting referred to a lawsuit they would file to block the project if it were approved with one asking how Lewis' endeavor would make money if he has to pay legal fees.



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