Mashpee, Cape Leaders Allege Impropriety With State Budget Amendment
By: GEOFF SPILLANE, May 5, 2014
A local shellfisherman’s nearly four-year battle to farm oysters in Popponesset Bay took a bizarre twist last week when state Representative Michael A. Costello (D- Newburyport) filed an amendment to the state budget that would designate the 1.99-acre aquaculture grant a “special coastal resource sanctuary.”
The budget, and the amendment, were approved by the Massachusetts House of Representatives on late Wednesday, and now proceed to the State Senate for review.
Newburyport is located more than 100 miles from Mashpee.
The amendment does not reference Mashpee or Popponesset Bay by name, but rather uses longitude and latitude to define the proposed sanctuary.
State Representative David T. Vieira (R-Falmouth), who represents Mashpee, said that the amendment never came across his radar screen and that he is interested in finding out what happened, and why Rep. Costello would sponsor the amendment. “I assumed that if he was working on an amendment that affected my district, that he would have talked to me. I would have expected that courtesy from him,” he said.
“This whole thing smacks of impropriety” Mashpee town manager Joyce M. Mason said, adding that the town will be doing everything it can to stop the amendment from moving forward at the Senate level.
The text of the amendment can be found at https://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/House/H4000/Amendment/House/833/OriginalText.
Since 2011, Mashpee resident Richard J. Cook has been embroiled in an often bitter dispute with more than 20 waterfront homeowners on Popponesset and Daniels Islands who oppose the planned aquaculture project. The opponents have had their case heard before several town boards and committees at Mashpee Town Hall, as well as Barnstable County Superior Court, and, most recently, the Massachusetts Appeals Court in Boston. To date, not one ruling has been rendered in favor of the opposition.
“All I can say is that I am playing by the rules and participating in the process of legally obtaining all of the permits that I need. For something like this to move forward without anyone in Mashpee knowing about it is just plain wrong. I don’t know much about politics, but I do know about billiards. If this were a pool game it would be dirty pool. Someone is trying to pocket a ball with nobody looking,” Mr. Cook said.
Ms. Mason also stressed that the amendment, if it survives, would have a significant impact on Mashpee, including water quality degradation and the inability to dredge the restricted area. “This is all happening because someone is not getting what they want in the court system. I don’t understand how someone from Newburyport, with no connection to Mashpee, could move this forward. We need to find out who is behind this,” she said.
Asked to comment on the amendment, Mashpee Board of Selectmen chairman John J. Cahalane said that his remarks would not be printable, and that he would be waiting for additional details.
Reached by telephone Monday, Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D-Harwich) expressed his concern about the amendment and said his office is in active fact-gathering mode about what he referred to as “what appears to be a strange series of events” and “something that does not smell right.”
Sen. Wolf also stressed that it is too early to speculate about the circumstances surrounding the presentation and passage of the amendment, and who may or may not have been involved.
“It appears that if somebody is taking advantage of the amendment process for a special interest, and if that’s the case, it is totally inappropriate. I also intend to have a discussion to see if there is something that should be looked at regarding the legality of this,” Sen. Wolf said.
Several calls placed Monday to Rep. Costello’s office were not returned. In March, Rep. Costello announced that he would not seek reelection to the seat he has held since 2003.
Brian J. Wall, the attorney representing the Popponesset and Daniels Island homeowners, has also not responded to calls and e-mail messages seeking comment on the matter.