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Float Idea of Alternative Lease Sites

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 12:59

Trustees debate county program in Northwest Harbor vs. Gardiner’s Bay

Members of the East Hampton Town Trustees disagreed among themselves on Friday on the merits of Suffolk County’s Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Program in Peconic Bay and Gardiner’s Bay, leaving John Aldred, the trustees’ representative to the county, uncertain as to what he should recommend to administrators conducting a 10-year review of the program.

The program, in which parcels are leased for private commercial shellfish cultivation, was adopted in 2009; implementation began in 2010, six years after the state ceded title to some 100,000 acres of bottomland to the county. A review is required to determine if and how the program should be changed and implemented in 2020 and beyond, and includes an overall evaluation of it to date.

In East Hampton, the leasing of bottomlands has proven controversial. Two years ago, residents who live along Gardiner’s Bay and members of the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett began expressing anger at a changing seascape as plots for 10-acre oyster farms began to appear offshore from Promised Land to Devon, extending to the Napeague Harbor inlet. Early last year, the yacht club sued the county’s aquaculture lease board, its Planning Department, the town, the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Amagansett Oyster Company, and individual leaseholders, whom they sought to bar from undertaking or continuing any action related to oyster farming, or any other activity that would interfere with sailing on Gardiner’s Bay. The lawsuit was settled in January, with the Amagansett Oyster Company withdrawing from the site that Devon officials said interfered with the club’s boating activities and applying for a new site.

New leases are limited to a total of 60 additional acres per year, for a total of 600 acres by the 10th year of the program’s implementation.

Commercial fishermen, Mr. Aldred said Friday, have always viewed the program with some skepticism, but the county and the town’s fisheries advisory committee and baymen’s association agreed on Gardiner’s Bay for the oyster farm parcels. “It’s relatively shallow, very exposed to the northeast, a lot of shifting sand . . . and the fishing industry doesn’t really utilize it, either,” he said. However, “concerns have been expressed by other interests in East Hampton. . . . There’s a feeling that these [leases] conflict with navigation and are potentially dangerous.”

In searching for other waterways to which some lease sites might be relocated, Mr. Aldred said that siting them off undeveloped land could eliminate aesthetic concerns and fears of gear breaking loose and posing a hazard. “The most undeveloped land and parkland probably exists in the Northwest Harbor area,” he said. “So that’s a consideration.” He and Francis Bock, the trustees’ clerk, had already met with some residents there, he said, and “floated the possibility that this might be an alternative area to site some of those leases.” Reaction was mixed, he said.

But Rick Drew, a trustee, was unambiguous. “That’s some of the best bottomland,” he said. “There is good bottomland for hard clams and for bay scallops there. To give that to individuals, I think, would be against everything the trustees stand for.” He called the area “a light-tackle fishing paradise that has been used for as long as I’ve been around,” for activities including canoeing, paddleboarding, and kayak fishing.

Mr. Aldred said he was not advocating for any particular site, “I’m just pointing out that from an aquaculture standpoint and from the standpoint of a lot of parkland being concentrated in this area, it’s just another area in town.”

Mr. Bock said that a maximum of 14 lease sites could be moved there. “It’s a 2,600-acre area,” he said, “and we’re talking 140 for this purpose.”

Unmoved, Mr. Drew criticized what he called an expansion of the program into a new area.

“We’re moving sites from one area to another,” Mr. Bock said. “Right now, all the pressure is on one area. The people at Lazy Point and on Cranberry Hole [Road] — everything is there. If we can move some of them off to another area, that’s less that they have to deal with, and we’re just sharing the burden.”

“When you approach these floating cages from a boat, it’s very difficult to see them,” Mr. Drew protested. “When you approach at night . . . the cages that are out in Napeague Bay are not lit properly. . . . It is very dangerous.” The volume of vessel traffic coming out of Sag Harbor is “enormous,” he said. “Those marinas are overflowing. Where do people recreate on the weekends? They go to Northwest Harbor to go wake-boarding, sailing, water-skiing, fishing. You’ve got a huge conflict of use potential there. . . . You’re taking a situation that right now is bad in one area and you’re propagating it with the same problems to another area before you’ve figured out the solution to this area.”

Mr. Aldred, with mild irritation, replied. “At some point, this is going to have to be thrown to the board to decide what I am supposed to be representing.” The lease program, he said, is “an attempt to provide an economic opportunity for local people, preferably — to make a living, or part of a living, on the water, and potentially be able to continue a life on the water. . . . I understand there are tradeoffs, and there are problems with things like that.”

Mr. Drew said that many people would like to see the floating cages sunk to the sea floor, calling that a viable option despite the understanding that shellfish grow more slowly down there. “Before you go trying to move things around, we should explore things that make the current situation safer for navigation and earn more support of the community.”

“I’m not sure this 10-year review process really affords that opportunity to do all these tests and ‘Let’s see about this’ and ‘Let’s see about that,’ ” Mr. Aldred said. “The county is going to establish some way forward on this program by the end of this process,” perhaps as soon as April.

The trustees wondered about other locations for oyster farms, including Cherry Harbor, off Gardiner’s Island, though Mr. Aldred predicted pushback from fishermen. “That’s where we are,” he said. “I don’t know where to take it with this board.”

Barley Dunne, director of the town’s shellfish hatchery, is Mr. Aldred’s counterpart, representing the town in discussions of the leasing program. They have attended irregular meetings with county officials as part of the review. Another was to take place yesterday.


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