Stonington Shellfish Commission again rules Quiambaug Cove application is incomplete

Editor's note: This version corrects the residence of Dana Lewis

Stonington — A group of Cove Road residents again urged the Shellfish Commission on Thursday night to reject a new application by a Lord’s Point resident to raise juvenile shellfish in Quiambaug Cove, saying it is incomplete and would damage the ecology and character of the cove.

Although the commission was not holding a public hearing on the application, only deciding whether the application is complete and should be considered at a later date, nine people spoke in opposition to the project and were applauded by fellow opponents.

The commission then ruled the application was incomplete, as it needs state and federal permits and an updated eelgrass survey. Applicant Dana Lewis can update and resubmit it at a later date.

“This project will alter the character and ecology of the cove forever,” said marine ecologist Debbie Carlton, who said the 1 million oysters that are not harvested will move throughout the cove by winds and tides. Her husband, marine ecology expert James Carlton, said the spread of oysters would provide a fertile breeding ground for a type of invasive algae which has killed off scallops in other areas.

Cove resident Rosanne Smyle told the commission that this is not a “not in my backyard” issue.

“I’m in favor of oyster cultivation done in an appropriate way in an appropriate location,” she said, calling, as others did, for an independent environmental study of the project’s impact on the cove.

Last year, a previous application by Lewis was met with widespread neighbor opposition. The commission then declined to accept the application because members said it did not contain details on his plans to raise the juvenile shellfish to maturity off Enders Island after he harvested them from the cove. Since that time, Lewis has come up with a plan to raise the oysters to maturity in stacked cages just outside of Stonington Harbor. He now is seeking approval from local, state and federal agencies for that portion of the plan.

Lewis wants to seed 300,000 to 400,000 eastern oysters on the bottom of a 1.7-acre portion of the southwestern section of Quiambaug Cove and then dredge them up by hand when they grow to about 50 millimeters in size. No gear would have been placed in the water. He said nothing would be visible except for him at certain times of the year wading in the water with a 24-foot skiff nearby. A dredge also could be used.

He would then place the juvenile oysters in cages in a 7.7-acre state shellfish lease area located about 1,700 feet southeast of Wamphassuc Point and 100 feet south of the harbor breakwater.

Cove road resident Harry Martin said “family values” and “property values” for the 40 property owners on the cove would be hurt by Lewis’ “commercial exploitation” of the waterway.

He asked the commission if it has funds available to reimburse homeowners for what he said would be a 20 percent loss in their property values.

Former commission chairman David Motherway and his wife pointed out a state law that does not allow the introduction of shellfish into an area that interferes with another fishery, in this case, scallops.

Lewis, who said the opponents' estimate of oysters in the cove is inaccurate due to a projected 60 percent mortality rate, had his supporters.

Steve Malinowski, owner of the Fishers Island Oyster Farm, said “there is not a shred of evidence” that shows property values are affected by any of the 400 oyster farms in New England. In addition, he said it attracts tourism.

Cove Road resident Ben Philbrick told the commission he can’t “understand why a self-employed person can’t gamble his own money and time on a small patch of land.”

j.wojtas@theday.com

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