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News Feature

Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot and Sedgwick
Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 6, 2014
Increase in aquaculture on Bagaduce River raises local concern
DMR plans public outreach meeting

by Anne Berleant

A group of citizens from the four Bagaduce River towns has been holding meetings under the public radar over the last six months to discuss the growing presence of aquaculture in the local waterway.

“This is not an organization, it’s a group of concerned citizens about the expansion of aquaculture on the Bagaduce River,” said member Tom Stewart of Penobscot in a recent phone call.

Stewart estimated that approximately 100 people have attended one or more of the meetings, which began last summer.

One of the group’s issues is the use of limited purpose aquaculture licenses (LPA) granted for the Bagaduce River and the regulations governing them, which are more relaxed than those for standard or test leases.

There are 30 LPA sites in the Bagaduce River, 16 of which were new in 2013.

An LPA license is valid for one year for a site limited to 400 square feet; the license may be renewed each year if the DMR criteria for the license is still met.

However, according to the DMR website, the “the intention of [the LPA license] program, developed at the suggestion of shellfish growers…is to streamline the permitting process so that growers can ‘try out’ different locations prior to applying for a lease.”

In addition, Stewart said that, in some cases, four LPA licenses each are being acquired by members of an extended family, which turns the LPA sites into a commercial operation.

By clustering the sites together—three are permitted within a 1,000 square foot radius of other existing LPA sites—the oystermen are “staking a claim” on the bay, Stewart said.

Unlike a standard 10-year lease or three-year test lease, LPA license applications require no public hearing, and the DMR relies on the applicant to provide the site information that determines whether the site meets license criteria. This information is often based on outdated surveys, Stewart said, and doesn’t place existing eelgrass beds or minimizes them, and may provide inaccurate information on existing fishing or recreational uses.

“We’re finding discrepancies,” Stewart said, adding that those who have lived on the river for a long time “know the river like the back of our hands.”

Applicants are required to notify riparian owners within 300 feet when submitting an application to the DMR, but those neighbors “have no say in it, “ Stewart said.

The rules governing LPA licenses are found under Title 12 of the Maine Revised Statutes 12 §6072-A, and the Department of Marine Resources established rules, found in §2.90 of the DMR Procedural Rules, based upon those statutes.

Apart from the procedural issues, it is the potential environmental impact and the change in use of a natural resource that are a major concern to the group. The aquaculture operations mean floats, equipment, boat traffic and lines moving in the river.

“I consider the Bagaduce estuary The Commons that are protected for all people under the United States and Maine laws,” wrote Brooksville group member Bill McWeeny in a recent email. “What the DMR is doing in places like the Bagaduce estuary is robbing The Commons from the people and giving them to a select few people, not only at the expense of the People but also at the expense of the environment.”

Apart from the 30 LPA sites in the Bagaduce, there are two standard leases, two experimental leases and two proposed standard leases. A standard lease is granted for 10 years for up to 500 acres; a test or experimental lease for three years for up to four acres.

Citizens from Penobscot recently asked the Penobscot Board of Selectmen to officially bring the group’s concerns to the DMR. Selectmen sent a letter to DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher on December 10, 2013.

Keliher replied that the letter’s timing was “fortunate as the Department is in the early stages of organizing a series of aquaculture public outreach meetings, the first of which will likely be held in Brooksville, Maine in February 2014. The purpose of these meetings will be to explain how the Department administers our aquaculture program, answer questions, and listen.”

At press time, no date had yet been set for the Brooksville meeting.