The Wanderer - Mobile Edition


Bryant Aquaculture Farm Moves Ahead

Marion Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

Reminding the residents present who oppose Chris Bryant's proposed aquaculture farm south of Meadow Island that there would be no final license granted that night, the Board of Selectmen gave preliminary approval for the aquaculture license application to move forward, prompting some in attendance to gasp in displeasure.

The hearing was continued from December 20, and on January 17, many of the same issues arose, including Bryant's aquaculture farm site being too close to what residents consider heavily navigated waters.

Bryant returned with new visuals to support his lowest tide depths and locations of rocks, which Bryant determined are 180 feet away from the proposed site.

The channel in question, Bryant said, is 90 feet or so wider than the main channel used to enter and exit Marion Harbor. He maintained that his oyster farm would not cause undue stress on the waterways.

Bryant read from regulations and cautioned selectmen that they could not deny a license for "unreasonable reasons."

As residents took turns speaking and asking selectmen to deny the application, Chairman Jody Dickerson addressed the crowd.

"The license is the last part," said Dickerson. "It's a marathon, it's not a sprint. It's just preliminary approval to move forward."

Bryant stated that he had allowed for a 30-foot move of the site a bit more west, and another 30 feet in the southerly direction.

At high tide, Brant said, one could navigate a 60-foot vessel through the channel.

"It does not interfere with any navigation," said Bryant.

Bryant also pointed out that interfering with one's "view" was not any part of the legal requirements for siting of an aquaculture farm.

The Town of Marion owns 12.1 square miles of surface saltwater, said Bryant. That is 7,750 acres.

"We're talking about half an acre," said Bryant.

Selectman Steve Gonsalves' opinion was, "People that live in that area have equal weight to say to two or three guys. I don't get it, but it's all right, I get what you're saying."

A petition against the oyster farm garnered 72 viable signatures and 25 letters to the Board of Selectmen.

Jeff Holmes of 73 West Avenue gave an impassioned speech comparing the passion of the Planting Island residents toward the waterway to the sentiment of the Native Americans who once inhabited the island, growing crops.

"It's the same passion that we're talking about today," said Holmes, which is the "God-given right" to use these waterways.

One resident asked what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reviews as it contemplates granting the license. Selectmen asked Harbormaster Isaac Perry to address the question, who said they generally look at whether the project materially obstructs navigation.

"In my estimation, it certainly does not do that," Perry said.

Conservation Commission member Norm Hills spoke in favor of the application, saying, "We're talking about a half acre," adding that it amounted to about 0.6 percent of Marion's saltwater acreage.

"It's hard to believe that that ... would result in a hardship," said Hills.

Resident William Barry retorted, "But this is a critical acre and a half, and we're losing more than a third of it."

"Aquaculture is nothing new to the Town of Marion," stated Perry, returning to the podium.

Perry called aquaculture in Marion as "self-limiting," saying, "We don't have a lot of available space.... We're really not going to have any problems with someone coming into town and creating a ten-acre site."

Perry referred to one resident's reference to Bryant's project as "taking land from the public trusts."

"Well, that's what your moorings are," said Perry. "That's what your docks are."

Essentially, it is taking from the public trust, he said, for the benefit of a small group of people.

"The issues are identical," said Perry. "I cannot in good conscience see denying the Bryants or anyone else for that matter." He continued, "I don't like the 'it's fine for me and it's not all right for you' argument, and I get a sense that that is what we're hearing here tonight."

Perry said the waterway between Planting Island and Meadow Island in question is not a legitimate navigational channel and is not marked as such by the U.S. Coast Guard.

"We follow [the regulations] to a 'T 'along with all the other grants," said Perry, "But the 'not in my back yard' just is not a valid argument."

Selectman Stephen Cushing made the motion to grant approval, with Dickerson making the second. Gonsalves voted against the motion in a 2-1 vote.

In other matters, the board did grant final approval for the aquaculture license for Doug Thackeray, whose license had just been approved by the Conservation Commission that past week. The application has been going through the process for about a year and a half.

"It's a very long road that Mr. Thackeray's been on," said Perry. "I think it's a great proposal. Some of the issues we heard earlier tonight just don't apply."

The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for February 7 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

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