March 25, 2019
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Town to ask state to accept more public input on controversial shellfish farm expansion

RIch Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
RIch Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Spinney Creek Shellfish of Eliot is seeking state approval for a three-year aquaculture lease on 3.67 acres of Spinney Creek, a salt pond between Eliot and Kittery off the Piscataqua River.

KITTERY, Maine — Pleading and concerned residents sought help from the Town Council Wednesday night following the state-held aquaculture hearing last month that, they say, was designed to minimize public input and the scope of discussion.

As a result of the resident pleas, the Town Council, through Town Manager Kendra Amaral, will pen a letter to the Maine Department of Marine Resources conveying the concerns and requesting a second opportunity for public input ahead of a decision on the application from Spinney Creek Shellfish, owned by Eliot residents Tom and Lori Howell.

The Howells’ application seeks to expand their oyster farming operations to a maximum of 3.67 acres on the 127-acre Spinney Creek, which is split between Kittery and Eliot. The Howells have argued it’s their right to expand their livelihood as a working Maine waterfront, on a body of water they’ve cared for for years. But a group of residents around the creek have galvanized to oppose the expansion, citing a reduction in quality of life, the environment and safety.

At the request of the town of Kittery, the DMR held an adjudicatory hearing on Sept. 27 at Traip Academy. Beginning at 6 p.m., the public testimony portion did not start until 10 p.m., long after a majority of attendees had gone home to go to bed, the residents argued Wednesday. They added that the Howells, their experts, and representatives from the DMR were given priority in presenting and no restrictions around doing so.

Members of the public who did speak were given a five-minute time limit and were prohibited from addressing anything other than the criteria determined by the DMR used to evaluate aquaculture leases. Views, property values and odors are not on that list, for example.

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Prior to the Sept. 27 hearing, the same hearing was originally scheduled for the week before at the Rice Public Library, but was canceled on the spot by the state when the room reached over capacity.

Filomena Knowles, who owns property on the creek, told the Town Council that 400 people signed a petition in opposition that was handed to the DMR at the hearing. She called the oyster farming expansion “like Hindenburg falling out of the sky onto Spinney Creek.”

While the Town Council has no jurisdiction over aquaculture, Knowles asked the council to communicate resident concerns to the state. “It used to be two men and a rake,” Knowles said of aquaculture. “These are now factories.”

Kathy LeMoine said public testimony was the fourth and final item of the hearing’s schedule, indicating the mentality that input from riparian owners or concerned abutters did not matter. The hearing was not a scoping session, she said, but rather restricted members of the public to what they could speak to.

Norm LeMoine said up until the hearing, abutters were given no opportunity to voice their opinions.

“Why didn’t a scoping meeting occur?” he said. “Whether mandated or not, it’s obviously the right thing, or the neighborly thing to do.” LeMoine said he felt Spinney Creek residents would have “happily” sat down to come up with a plan that satisfied all parties.

Resident Robert Marsilia said “it was clear aquaculture is a favored activity by the state.” He said that the attitudes of scientists and experts who testified struck him as “degrading the fact that we live here, and that we have a right to want to use (the creek) as well.”

[Residents alarmed by proposed expansion of Maine shellfish farm]

“They’re locating this on the Kittery side of the lake, but they’re paying taxes in Eliot,” Marsilia said of the Howells.

Town Council Chairman Ken Lemont emphasized the fact that aquaculture solely lies in the jurisdiction of the state in this case, but he understood the concerns. He felt issues like views, odor and property values should be on the table.

Councilor Jeffrey Thomson suggested the council give a consensus to Amaral to write a letter to the DMR commissioner stating a number of residents attended their recent meeting, feeling they were not properly heard at the public hearing, and request the possibility of a second hearing to allow for more input.

“I witnessed the degradation by the state to the residents of this town,” said Councilor Charles Denault, who attended the hearing. “It was obvious that the state of Maine appeared to have made up their minds and had no intentions of listening to the people.”

Thomson told the residents although they’ll send a letter, the DMR could very well tell the town to “take a hike.”

The DMR is currently reviewing the application and is expected to issue a decision within 30 to 60 days from the Sept. 27 hearing date.

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