KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — State and local officials have ordered a popular Cape Porpoise restaurant to stop dumping used clam shells on a nearby tidal flat.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection told Pier 77′s owners in an Aug. 20 letter that disposing shells in the intertidal zone represents a “discharge of pollutants” that’s banned under state law.
The practice also constitutes “filling” within a Resource Protection Zone, which would require a permit from the town and the state, according to a separate letter to Pier 77 from Kennebunkport Town Planner Werner Gilliam.
Such a permit, Gilliam wrote in a July 29 letter, probably wouldn’t be issued.
“Given the sensitive nature of the location I do not believe that you would be able to obtain permits for this type of filling activity,” Gilliam said.
The order was issued following an inspection of the restaurant site by state and town officials earlier this summer.
Owner Kate Morency said the restaurant, which opened about a decade ago and serves a mix of seafood, steaks and pasta, has complied with the state’s request.
Her husband, Pier 77 chef Peter Morency, had long been spreading the quahog shells in the tidal flat behind the restaurant after making that day’s batch of clam chowder, she said.
After many days in the hot summer sun, she said the normally sandy-hued shells turn a vibrant white. The unusual sight is not lost on the restaurant’s guests, many of whom are from out of state.
“People are like, ‘Oh my God, look at the shells, they are so pretty,’” Kate Morency said.
However, the shells have built up over the years and are even visible in aerial shots of the area on Google Earth, Gilliam says.
All those shells can potentially harm the mud flats, which are crucial feeding grounds for dozens of species, including migratory birds, according to a 1999 report produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These areas also are important for shellfish harvesting.
Disposal of sediments and other “fill” such as a thick layer of spent clam shells also can smother plant and animal life, according to the NOAA report, among other problems.
Gilliam said the town is not pursuing penalties against the restaurant. The town also is not requiring Pier 77 to restore the area to its previous condition.
The state also does not contemplate fines, according to a DEP spokeswoman.
Gilliam believes the restaurant has ceased the illegal activity and he has not received any new complaints. Even so, he says there really is no way to know for sure unless he inspects the area on a daily basis.
“Quite frankly,” he said, “it’s one of those things where it’s difficult to tell.”