Deadline extended for comments on Niantic River shellfish farm plan
Waterford — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has extended the deadline for public comment on a New London man's application to build a shellfishing operation in the Niantic River to Sept. 20 after an oversight stopped an original public notice about the project from reaching Waterford's Town Hall.
Tim Londregan, who has worked for a Fishers Island shellfish hatchery for three years and owns an oyster farm in the Niantic Bay, plans to expand his operation to include a 6.4-acre area on the bottom of the Niantic River.
If he gets permission from the Army Corps, Londregan said he hopes to be moving immature oysters and scallops into the Niantic River by spring, letting them grow to a larger size in 15-inch-tall metal racks in the river before moving some back out to the bay to grow to market size.
Applications for permits to install the metal trays needed for the project are pending with both the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the New England Division of the Army Corps, which oversees work affecting navigable U.S. waters.
The Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission, which is made up of Waterford and East Lyme residents, has granted Londregan a license giving him access to 6 acres of the bottom of the river for one year to experiment with growing the oysters and scallops there.
But an Aug. 1 public notice from the Army Corps and a disagreement over whether the shellfish commission permit is valid have brought the project under scrutiny from town officials, as well as neighbors concerned it will affect boating access and their view of the river.
In addition, the Army Corps inadvertently left Waterford's Town Hall off the list of addresses it sent the public notice to, according to Cori Rose, the Army Corps project manager.
Unfamiliar with the jurisdiction of the Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission, Army Corps staff members addressed the notice only to East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson's office, and not the office of Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward. The oversight led to a delay for Waterford residents and project abutters receiving the information, so the Army Corps will continue to accept public comment through Sept. 20, almost three weeks past the original Aug. 29 deadline.
Comments on the application, which is available on the Army Corps website at www.nae.usace.army.mil, can be submitted to Rose at the Army Corps' New England District at 696 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742.
A second piece of paper distributed to Waterford mailboxes late last week is further complicating the public's understanding of the project, Rose said Tuesday. The paper, titled "Public Notice," contains inaccurate information about the permit application and was not issued by the Army Corps, she said.
The paper instructs recipients to find more information on the Facebook page of a group called the Niantic River Advocacy Coalition, which urges people to submit comments to the Army Corps and ask the agency to schedule a public meeting to address the project.
After the Army Corps receives public comments, it will determine whether to host a meeting, Rose said.
DEEP is conducting a simultaneous analysis of Londregan's application for a so-called structures, dredging and fill state permit and may decide to host a joint meeting with the Army Corps, according to David Carey, the director of DEEP's Bureau of Aquaculture.
In the meantime, Waterford Town Attorney Robert Avena has said he will evaluate the validity of the shellfish commission agreement with Londregan, which Steward argues needs Board of Selectmen approval before it's legal. Avena said he plans to deliver a report to the commission at its September meeting.
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