In a déjà vu of over two months ago, Morgan Bay residents, fishermen, and attorneys filed once again into the Surry Elementary School on June 18.
The Department of Marine Resources had reopened its hearing on an experimental aquaculture lease application on Morgan Bay to allow for more public comment on the proposed site’s impact on use of the bay.
In April, the DMR had held a first public hearing that spanned two days and over 15 hours of testimony on an application by Joe Porada of Hancock. He proposes to grow oysters and quahogs on four acres about 2.5 miles north of Jed Island. The experimental lease runs for three years.
Some witnesses at the current hearing evoked childhood memories—“We used to stand in the sand and try and catch the eels,” said Jan Pirozollo-Mellowes, daughter of intervener Jack Pirozollo. Pirozollo has filed a lawsuit against the DMR charging that the hearing has been compromised by Diantha Robinson’s dual role as DMR aquaculture administrator and hearing officer.
Others spoke to whether the proposed site would hamper boat navigation.
“I’ve lived at the head of Morgan Bay for 43 years [and] used the waters extensively,” said Mark Baldwin, stating that “every sailor in Maine” has to navigate around fishing gear. “Fishing has been a part of this coast since the first people…This kind of oystering is among the least intrusive of all fishing activities.”
The DMR criteria for granting or denying a three-year experimental lease includes whether the site interferes with shore access by riparian land owners within 1,000 feet of the proposed site, navigation and fishing or “other water-related uses.”
Matt McDonald, who said he’s lived on Morgan Bay year-round for 62 years, using the bay to swim, boat and clam, expressed a fear of more aquaculture in Morgan Bay.
“I’ve kept my mouth shut,” McDonald said. “What worries me is the kids and grandchildren…I could live with Joe Porada, but I don’t think I could live with 10 other people expanding the operation.”
Porada has filed applications for two additional four-acre sites contiguous to the site currently under review.
Another witness, Ginger Williams, said she accessed Morgan Bay from Ann Backer’s property, with her permission, when Backer was not present. Backer is a riparian property owner and intervener.
“I don’t see how anyone could swim a bit without being entangled,” Williams said.
Not everyone agreed.
“I don’t see what this small portion of the bay for Porada’s lease application would prevent anyone from enjoying leisure aspects of the bay,” said Morgan Bay resident Elaine Shute. “The fear that is being promoted—I don’t buy into it.”
A major issue, however, may prove to be the effect of aquaculture on property values.
“A Surry resident has asked and received a 30 percent reduction in the taxable value of their property because of working waterfront activity,” said Surry Selectman Bill Matlock. This precedent, if carried onto “everyone riparian,” would raise taxes for all residents and make the proposed lease “worth millions.”
The Town of Surry, some riparian property owners and the Friends of Morgan Bay association have been granted intervener status in the application.
The DMR usual review period is 60 days after a public hearing closes.