Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 14, 2013
Public hearing set for Morgan Bay aquaculture lease
Opposed neighbors hire attorney, file suit
by Anne Berleant
The next chapter in a Hancock man’s effort to lease four acres in Morgan Bay for an experimental aquaculture operation will begin on March 25, when the Department of Marine Resources holds a public hearing on the application.
“It’s a saga,” said Joseph Porada of Hancock, who applied to the DMR last August to raise oysters and quahogs in Surry, after first holding two scoping sessions to inform and get feedback from the community.
Much of that feedback was negative, and nearby property owners have formed Morgan Bay Neighbors, a group aligned against the proposed operation, hiring Ellsworth attorney Sally Mills of Hale & Hamlin, LLC, who said she will bring expert testimony to the hearing.
Mills is also applying for intervener status on the group’s behalf, which “gives you the right to appeal a decision,” she said. “It gives you a seat at the table.”
The proposed site, 2.5 miles north of Jed Island, is immediately offshore of property belonging to Marshall Bolster and Susan Straubing, whose letter supporting Porada’s application and granting use of their shorefront is part of his application.
However, that permission is being contested by Nicholas Sichterman and Mariah Hughes, who filed suit in Hancock County Superior Court, claiming that access to the site “is not currently possible” without using a right-of-way over their property.
In his answer filed January 5, Porada describes the suit as “unnecessary and frivolous” and asks that it be dismissed, claiming he doesn’t need use of the right-of-way to access Straubing and Bolster’s shorefront.
The DMR bases its aquaculture lease decisions on statutory criteria, including whether the operation would interfere with commercial or recreational vessel navigation or fishing, public use and enjoyment, or shorefront access by riparian property owners.
A site review performed by DMR biologists states that canoes and kayaks would have to deviate “approximately 500 feet” from the proposed lease site and sailboats avoid it entirely, especially along the western shore, where the proposed site is five to 10 feet from the mean low water mark.
The review also noted the presence of kayaks and dinghies on shore at surrounding properties and that “swimming in the warm near-shore waters of the bay is almost certainly a frequent activity for waterfront property owners and their guests.” And in a DMR Harbormaster Questionnaire, Surry Selectman Bill Matlock responded that “lots of recreational fishing” takes place in the proposed lease site.
DMR biologists determined that no fish or wildlife would be impacted by the proposed aquaculture operation, another application criteria.
While Porada and the DMR agree some operation equipment may be visible from shore at low tide, according to Aquaculature Administrator Diantha Robinson, aesthetics is not a legal criteria.
“What’s going to happen when aquaculture comes against tourism?” asked Matlock at a November public forum on Blue Hill Bay hosted by the Hancock County Planning Commission.
Apparently, it already has. The Morgan Bay application is one of nearly a dozen new experimental lease applications being reviewed by the DMR. One, for a 50-acre site in Goose Cove in Trenton is also headed for a public hearing, said Mills.
“These hearings can be confrontational,” she said, “but a big chunk of them is informational.”
Morgan Bay Aquaculture Lease Hearing
5:30 p.m. Monday, March 25
Surry Elementary School
More info: maine.gov/dmr/aquaculture/index.htm