In 1830, the leading Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster described government as “made for the people, made by the people and answerable to the people.”
We have for many months observed and listened to the debate about the expansion of aquaculture, specifically oysters, in neighborhoods like Goose Cove near the airport in Trenton, Blue Hill Bay, Morgan Bay and now the Bagaduce River.
We must state from the beginning that we are not anti-aquaculture, anti-business or anti-neighbor, but we are anti-irresponsible government and anti-irresponsible development of any kind.
We do not want any of our neighbors put out of business; assuming that this is our goal is grossly misrepresenting our concerns. We have spoken with many of our neighbors, and no one has the goal of putting other neighbors out of business. In fact through “good neighbor relations” there are currently at least two multi-year leases that are not up for renewal for many years.
What we want is responsible government leadership, specifically from the Maine Department of Marine Resources. If DMR had taken a positive leadership role in its mission to support or promote aquaculture on the Bagaduce River, or anywhere else, it would have come to the boards of selectmen in each of the four involved towns (Castine, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Brooksville) and said that it believes the Bagaduce River is a suitable site for aquaculture development.
It would have asked the town leadership the best way to put together a group of stakeholders from each town to meet and seriously discuss how this development might look over time. The stakeholders could be residents from all towns with or without riparian rights, marine biologists, business people, conservationists, oyster developers from the towns and other government agencies. There are many talented people with expertise and local knowledge of the resource living in these towns.
Instead, a certified letter from a stranger informs a riparian owner within 300 feet of a proposed site that an application has been filed to place a group of floats with plastic bags in your backyard, your favorite swimming hole, the harbor seal haul-out spot and pupping ground, the favorite boating route, the best fishing hole, the eagle nest, etc. Of course none of these concerns is honored by DMR as they have established criteria that minimize those uses.
Additionally, if you live more than 300 feet from a proposed site, you are not notified at all. The result is that most parties along a body of water, and a very small portion of the total number of interested parties, are informed of the possible development that DMR has approved in a public waterway.
The “unintended” consequence of this lack of governmental leadership is that the people affected (the riparian owner, the river user, town leadership and the oyster developer) all start to scramble to get some local control over this “thing” created by DMR.
We use the word “thing” because it takes on a life of its own with name calling, unfounded accusations, questioning the motivation of concerned citizens, comments about economic status, accusations of trying to destroy livelihoods, pitting neighbor against neighbor — and the list goes on.
Through our participation in this controversy we have learned two very important things.
First, the Penobscot selectmen sent a letter to the DMR asking for a moratorium on any further aquaculture development. They have refused to sign off on renewals and new applications until local concerns have been addressed. The selectmen’s effort to slow things down, while a responsible course of action amenable to all stakeholders and the river itself is decided, clearly demonstrates positive governmental leadership. We congratulate the selectmen of Penobscot.
Second, we have learned through this controversy that DMR has caused much division through policy and lack of leadership, while ignoring the resource called community. It has done this repeatedly — in Morgan Bay, Blue Hill Bay and now the Bagaduce River. Scoping sessions, hearings and meetings after the fact is inadequate leadership, not positive and responsible marine resource leadership.
As Webster said, government is “made for, made by and answerable to” the local control of the people, an invaluable resource.
There will be a meeting with the Department of Marine Resources to discuss the planned expansion of oyster aquaculture at 5:30 p.m. on April 30 at the Penobscot Elementary School on Route 199 in Penobscot.
Tom and Karen Adamo live in Penobscot.