Oyster farm plans come under fire

Two oyster-growing cages sit Monday on the floor of the gym at Trenton Elementary School prior to the start of a public hearing on a proposal by local resident Warren Pettegrow to lease two 25-acre portions of Goose Cove for an aquaculture operation. More than 100 people attended Monday's five-hour session of the multi-day hearing, which is being conducted by Maine Department of Marine Resources. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BILL TROTTER
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Two oyster-growing cages sit Monday on the floor of the gym at Trenton Elementary School prior to the start of a public hearing on a proposal by local resident Warren Pettegrow to lease two 25-acre portions of Goose Cove for an aquaculture operation. More than 100 people attended Monday's five-hour session of the multi-day hearing, which is being conducted by Maine Department of Marine Resources. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BILL TROTTER
Posted Sept. 23, 2010, at 9:21 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

TRENTON, Maine — So many opponents and supporters of a proposed aquaculture operation in Goose Cove have something to say about the plan that a public hearing has stretched over three nights already and a fourth session needs to be scheduled.

The hearing is being conducted by Maine Department of Marine Resources to gather public comment about an application from local resident Warren Pettegrow to cultivate oysters on two 25-acre parcels at the mouth of Goose Cove in Western Bay, on the western side of the causeway onto Mount Desert Island. If approved, Pettegrow hopes to produce millions of harvest-size oysters each year in as many as 5,000 submerged cages.

Several area residents have expressed concerns about the proposal. Ellsworth attorney Sally Mills has been hired by a recently formed group called Friends of Goose Cove to represent it through the permitting process. Mills has said that the group is concerned about how the aquaculture operation might affect navigation, eel-grass, fishing and other activities and resources in the vicinity of Goose Cove. The size of the proposed lease area also is an issue for her clients, Mills has said.

Testimony has been slow and methodical in the public hearing, which started at 6 p.m. Monday at Trenton Elementary School and was suspended around 11 p.m. The proceeding continued at 5 p.m. Tuesday and, after being suspended again, was resumed at 5 p.m. Wednesday. At least 100 people attended Monday’s session.

According to Sylvia Brann of DMR, the hearing still was not completed Wednesday night and will need to be rescheduled. She said Thursday that a new date for the extended hearing has not been set, but that a public notice would be issued when it was.

Among the concerns raised by critics of the project is that it will create noise, with boats going out to tend to and maintain the oyster cages. Some officials with the Bar Harbor-Hancock County Airport have said that birds might be attracted to the operation, which could pose a hazard to planes coming and going from the nearby runway. One of the airport’s flight approaches passes directly above where the oyster cages would be.

Pettegrow, who already cultivates oysters at a former lobster pound his family owns in Lamoine, said that he hoped the oyster farm would help boost the local economy. He testified during the first day of the hearing that he did not think birds would be attracted to the oyster cages and that he would not make much noise com-pared to passing airplanes.

Conrad Hoffman, who owns land on Goose Cove, suggested that noise from operations at the proposed aquaculture farm could be more pervasive than sound generated by air traffic.

“There’s a big difference between a [boat] motor that drones on and on and on and a plane that flies by overhead,” Hoffman said.

Jon Lewis, a DMR biologist who testified Tuesday night, said Goose Cove is relatively shallow and has some of the softest ocean bottom anywhere in the state. He said he videotaped the proposed lease areas during a scuba dive and saw no sign of eelgrass or lobsters in either 25-acre parcel. He also said he did not think birds are likely to be a problem for passing airplanes, or that the aquaculture operation is likely to impede boat traffic in the area.

Lewis said that the oyster farm would be bigger than the combined size of all the other oyster aquaculture operations in the state.

“It is a large operation,” he said of the proposal.

Diantha Robinson, aquaculture hearing officer for DMR, said Tuesday that a decision on the application is not expected for several months. DMR has 120 days to issue a decision after the hearing ends, but that deadline can be extended if more time is needed, she said.

Considering the amount of testimony and the number of intervenors in the process, she said, there is a good chance the deadline will be extended.

“No one should be waiting with bated breath,” Robinson said.

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