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Shellfish Hatchery Brings Intense, Diverse Opinions

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 12:40

Two sides are circling each other in regard to a new, consolidated town shellfish hatchery off Gann Road at Three Mile Harbor. Untangling this will help guide what has been an excessively contentious debate toward an amicable resolution.

A new building for the hatchery would take the place of a house now on a corner parcel bought by the town with the community preservation fund. One side of the matter is procedural, whether town officials are moving too fast in preparing to spend up to $400,000 on the early stages of the work. The other side has to do with the site itself, and whether it is appropriate for something of this size.

Talk about a new town shellfish hatchery goes back years. At present, breeding takes place in a large building just behind the dunes at Fort Pond Bay in Montauk. The next stages in the tiny oysters’, clams’, and scallops’ lives are at more favorable grow-out settings, including a Gann Road area shared with the town’s Marine Patrol. However, the death rate during transportation of the young shellfish, or spat, is extremely high, according to Barley Dunne, the hatchery manager, and this represents a significant hit to any restocking effort.

Councilman Jeff Bragman has been the only town board member to raise important questions about the Gann Road plan. Among them is whether the town should have completed detailed environmental review before moving ahead on the early stages of design and construction. This is a standard that a private developer would have to meet for a commercial undertaking close to the water of this size — if only because it would be smart not to spend money before the necessary permits were in hand. Others on the town board argue that $400,000 is needed to get the plan to the point where it could be evaluated. We are not entirely convinced they are correct in this assumption.

Neighbors’ concerns are dominated by a sense that the area is already burdened by a full-service marina, popular seasonal restaurant, and the comings and goings at the commercial fishing bulkhead there. They say a new hatchery and associated education center would bring even more traffic and chaos. However, given the intense use already present, the new facility would have minimal effect. Also, since the restaurant closes in the off-season, new September-through-May activity would harm no one.

At the moment, no one seems satisfied. Given the ill feelings the proposal has engendered, as well as very significant neighborhood opposition, it is the moment for the town board to step back and re-engage all interested parties in conversation.

One potential outcome would be to drop the education center from the plan and concentrate entirely on the hatchery. Another might be to clear the decades of fishing gear stored and rotting at a large portion of the Gann Road Commercial Dock and use that area for any new construction. These are options, but nothing good will come of them until flaring tempers are calmed.

Widespread town opinion appears to support shellfish aquaculture. Gann Road is the obvious place to consolidate the hatchery into a new “green,” state-of-the-art facility. That said, any new plan should be for the smallest building possible and probably one that could accommodate only the smallest public events.

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