Opposition rises to proposed lease of clam flats near Georgetown

Chris Warner (right) is among the first to apply for an experimental lease of state-owned mud flats to seed and harvest clams. Warner is seeking a 4-acre plot in Healls Eddy, Georgetown, to begin a clam hatchery. He has been clamming for more than 20 years. Jay Holt (left) is a longtime Georgetown resident who owns abutting land. The Georgetown Shellfish Conservation Commission is scheduled to discuss the application Thursday.
Linn Caroleo | The Times Record
Chris Warner (right) is among the first to apply for an experimental lease of state-owned mud flats to seed and harvest clams. Warner is seeking a 4-acre plot in Healls Eddy, Georgetown, to begin a clam hatchery. He has been clamming for more than 20 years. Jay Holt (left) is a longtime Georgetown resident who owns abutting land. The Georgetown Shellfish Conservation Commission is scheduled to discuss the application Thursday.
Posted Oct. 05, 2012, at 6:06 p.m.

GEORGETOWN, Maine — A solid majority of people attending Thursday night’s meeting of the Shellfish Conservation Commission oppose an experimental lease of clam flats on Bay Point.

Chad Campbell, chairman of the Shellfish Conservation Commission, said after the meeting that three-quarters of the townspeople he polled opposed the lease to clammer Chris Warner, who is a commission member.

Warner wants to seed and harvest four acres of state-owned land, adjacent to property, owned by Jay Holt and his siblings.

“People thought it was a rush job,” Campbell said. “They thought there’s a need for education here.”

The commission voted Thursday to table any recommendation to selectmen.

“People are afraid that something small will turn out big, and that they’ll lose town-owned clam flats,” Campbell said. “They want to keep it on a town level.”

Jon Lewis, a biologist for the Department of Marine Resources aquaculture leasing program who attended Thursday night’s meeting, told the audience the department will consider the feelings of the town as it assesses the lease proposal, Campbell said.

According to the lease law, Campbell said the Department of Marine Resources cannot issue an “experimental aquaculture lease” in the intertidal zone without the consent of municipal officials. In this case, that would be the Board of Selectmen.

“He wants to get the consent of the town,” Campbell said.

Campbell said that the commission might have a recommendation for selectmen when it next meets Nov. 1.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, Campbell voiced some approval for Warner’s plan.

“I think where he’s putting it is a great spot, because it’s out of the way and unproductive,” he said. “If he’s going to seed it, it will help the bay.”

Because Warner changed his application from a license for four small parcels to an experimental aquaculture lease for four acres, there was no provision for the signature of town-elected officials on the form.

The lease, not renewable, would be for three years. Warner would be the first clammer in the state to use such a lease.

The decision rests in the hands of the state Department of Marine Resources.

Jenny Burch, a lawyer for Holt, wrote in a Sept. 28 letter to him that the committee has jurisdiction over the resource (the clams), but not the land.

“The Shellfish Committee has the ability to act more quickly than does DMR,” Burch said.

For that reason, Burch wrote, Warner might wish to ask the Shellfish Committee to declare the proposed lease area to be a conservation area.

“That would enable Chris Warner to seed the area before receiving the lease,” Burch said. “The risk here is that Chris would be investing in seed clams prior to receiving the lease.”

Holt emphasized that the property adjoining the clam flats is family-owned, and that he would not be making money through the lease.

“My mission is to keep renewable resources available to the coastal community,” Holt said.

Holt said that some in town wonder if it is fair that Warner can keep people out of flats he would be leasing, but still be able to dig in common areas.

“The answer is yes,” Holt said, “because the requirement for the commercial license is 14 conservation hours. They have to take surveys, clean certain areas, collect seed clams and more.”

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