With New Oyster Grant Plans Mr. Cook Returns To Town Hall, Followed By His Opponents
By: Brian Kehrl
Mashpee shellfisherman Richard J. Cook Jr. pitched his new proposal for an oyster farm in Popponesset Bay this week, though opponents of a prior site sought by Mr. Cook returned to the Mashpee Waterways Commission requesting a slower process and more information about the new plan.
Mr. Cook is proposing a three- or four-acre grant in the middle of the lower section of Popponesset Bay, just north of the sand flats that appear during low tide between the Popponesset spit, the Cotuit shoreline, and Popponesset Island.
“What I am trying to do is propose a site that has as little conflict as possible,” Mr. Cook said at the waterways commission meeting.
Mr. Cook said he is putting “on hold” his earlier application for a one-acre site next to Popponesset Island in response to strong opposition from nearby homeowners, who had challenged the proposal in several venues, including Barnstable Superior Court. “At this time, I do not have the time or the money to proceed with this pursuit,” he said.
The new site is approximately 1,000 feet from the closest home, he said.
In presentations to the waterways commission and the Mashpee Shellfish Commission during two separate meetings on Tuesday, Mr. Cook said he plans to grow the oysters primarily in mesh bags spread out along the bay bottom, rather than utilizing the cages he had proposed for his prior site just offshore from Popponesset Island.
Mr. Cook said he would be moving the bags from a more shallow part of the site, where they would grow during the summer to take advantage of a greater food supply, to a deeper area during the winter, where they would be protected from the ice floes that form on the sand flats. The deeper section of the site is about 3 feet at low tide, while the shallower sections are 8 to 12 inches, he said.
Both commissions had generally positive responses to the new proposal. The shellfish commission, of which Mr. Cook is a former member, voted unanimously to give preliminary support to the project. That commission is meant to consider the impact of private growing operations on existing shellfish resources.
However, the waterways commission, which is charged with overseeing boating safety, said the area would need to be at least 150 feet from navigational lanes and must not interfere with the path of the dredge used to keep the entrance channel clear.
Mashpee Shellfish Constable Richard H. York Jr. said the area proposed by Mr. Cook would be in the way of the dredge pipe, so he would either need to shift the location of the project, move the oysters every five years or so when the dredging is conducted, or find another way to accommodate the pipe.
Mr. Cook said in an interview yesterday that he plans to keep the location the same, but he will agree to move the gear whenever the dredging needs to take place. He said transferring the gear is feasible, pointing to his experience prior to Tropical Storm Irene this summer, when he moved the materials from the grant in Ockway Bay where he has been growing shellfish for more than two decades.
The waterways commission will take up the issue again at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, November 22, at 9 AM at Mashpee Town Hall.
No paperwork detailing the proposal has yet been filed with either commission, both of which serve in an advisory capacity to the Mashpee Board of Selectmen. Selectmen have the final say in whether to grant a license, a decision that requires a public hearing to first be held.
If he receives approval from the selectmen, he would then have to obtain permits from the Mashpee Conservation Commission and the state Division of Marine Fisheries, as well as the Department of Environmental Protection.
The process is likely to take at least several months.
Because the final boundaries of the site have not yet been staked out—Mr. Cook called it a “working plan”—the exact size of the grant cannot be determined. He said he hopes to provide a detailed engineering plan for the site later on in the process.
Mr. Cook said the site would likely be marked by four corner buoys, as well as four more in-between.
Brian J. Wall, a Sandwich attorney representing approximately 20 residents of Popponesset and Daniels islands who opposed Mr. Cook’s earlier proposal, spoke at the waterways commission meeting and said the panel should not move forward without more information and details in writing.
He said he and his clients were aware of Mr. Cook’s plan to bring forward a new proposal for some time, but they learned only on Friday in the newspaper about the waterways commission meeting.
He said they would like to see plans in advance of meetings, so they have a chance to review them and figure out any questions they may have.
After a debate, with some members urging the commission to vote on the matter on Tuesday, contingent upon Mr. Cook proving that the plan is 150 feet from the boating channels and will not disrupt the dredging, the commission decided to put off the vote for two weeks.
Mr. Wall attended the hearing along with the lead opponent to the prior location, Leslie Caffyn, and at least one of the other plaintiffs in the litigation against Mr. Cook and the town.
In an interview with the Enterprise in February of this year, soon after the first grant was proposed, Ms. Caffyn said she bought the property because of its tranquility and peacefulness and she did not want a commercial operation so close by.
“I am not sure I want it anywhere near my property, but I certainly don’t want it right in front of my house,” she said. “I bought that property for tranquility and for the views, and I don’t feel as though having an oyster farm in front of my house, where someone has to harvest 100 traps all the time, is something that I want.”
Also in attendance was Robyn Glaser, a representative of the Kraft family, the owners of the New England Patriots who own several properties on Popponesset Island. Ms. Glaser did not address the commission. The Krafts are not among Mr. Wall’s clients.
The waterways hearing was also attended by Selectman John J. Cahalane, Selectman Michael R. Richardson, Town Manager Joyce M. Mason, Conservation Agent Andrew R. McManus, and several family members of Mr. Cook.
Mr. Cook said in an interview yesterday that he was surprised to see Mr. Wall and the island residents at the meeting Tuesday. “I feel that I’m being very accommodating, and as I stated, Mr. Wall had said his clients were not opposed to aquaculture, just the Caffyn location. I don’t know what stance his clients are taking. Maybe they are just there to gather information and see what kind of proposal I am bringing forth, which is their right as well as anyone else,” Mr. Cook said.
Mr. Wall, in an interview, said his clients have not yet had an opportunity to evaluate in detail the new proposal. “We were there to find out more about it,” he said.
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