Upon review of the letter issued to the media and the Town last week by individuals who own property in the vicinity of the proposed Richard Cook aquaculture grant, the members of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen feel compelled to offer a response. We believe that the neighbors’ letter distorts the facts which have been clearly established in the numerous administrative and judicial proceedings conducted to date with respect to this matter and attempts to wrongfully disparage the Mashpee boards, commissions and officers which have been involved in those proceedings (as well as individuals who have had no involvement whatsoever).
The comprehensive administrative and judicial records regarding the grant of an aquaculture license and the issuance of the order of conditions for this project, as well as the highly publicized rejection by the Massachusetts General Court of the proposed budget amendment seeking to establish a marine sanctuary in Popponesset Bay, speak largely for themselves. To date, those proceedings have established, as a matter of law and fact, that the actions by the Mashpee Board of Selectmen and Conservation Commission, pursuant to which approvals were granted to Richard Cook for the purpose of conducting an aquaculture operation within a 1.9-acre site in Popponesset Bay, were wholly justified by and consistent with relevant legal authorities.
Notwithstanding the myriad protests and legal theories advanced by project opponents, the board of selectmen, conservation commission and zoning board of appeals, upon careful consideration and deliberation on all relevant facts and legal principles, determined that the subject locus was an appropriate site for Mr. Cook’s aquaculture activities. Upon approval of an aquaculture license and order of conditions for the project, and denial of requested zoning enforcement relief, certain property owners who claimed to be aggrieved by these determinations elected to pursue judicial appeals of these decisions. Contrary to the allegations made in the neighbors’ letter, the Town of Mashpee engaged its legal counsel to defend the actions of the board of selectmen, conservation commission and zoning board of appeals, all of which were deemed to be supported by the facts and compliant with the law; it did not expend taxpayer money in defense of Mr. Cook. The appeals filed with the Superior Court and the Land Court by multiple neighbors specifically named the board of selectmen, conservation commission and zoning board of appeals as the principal defendants in the litigation.
Mr. Cook, as the applicant for the aquaculture license and the order of conditions, was named as a co-defendant in those proceedings as required by law. In essence, however, these appeals were challenges to the local authority and actions by Town of Mashpee agencies. It is, in our view, disingenuous and self-serving for the neighbors to complain about the expenditure of taxpayer money in defense of litigation which they initiated against the Town. The plaintiffs, in an effort to reverse the decisions made by these town boards and commission, have asserted myriad legal arguments which, to date, have been rejected not only by the Barnstable Superior Court but by the Appeals Court of the Commonwealth. The board of selectmen firmly believes that the interests of good government require that the Town undertake appropriate legal defense to challenges of decisions by its boards, commissions and officers when those decisions are justified. The selectmen strongly reject any suggestion or inference that the Town should merely “roll over” or concede its positions for the sake of “conserving public funds” when individuals or groups with special interests and appropriate means challenge the authority and judgment of Town agencies in court proceedings.
The Town of Mashpee did not initiate any of this litigation; to the contrary, it was placed in a defensive litigation position by the plaintiffs. We see nothing improper or fiscally irresponsible with respect to the Town’s use of its legal resources to defend its agencies in such matters. To the contrary, we, as a board, firmly believe it would be irresponsible of Town leaders to be intimidated or leveraged financially to concede the local jurisdiction and authority of its boards, commissions and officers over regulatory matters such as the permitting of aquaculture grants.
Notwithstanding the unsubstantiated and, frankly, insulting allegation set forth in the neighbors’ letter, the decisions of the town boards and commission to approve the proposed aquaculture operation and the policy decision to vigorously defend the Town’s positions in the six judicial appeals filed by the various plaintiffs had nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Cook’s relationship with any present or former Town official. Nor were these decisions premised upon any financial benefit that may inure to Mr. Cook as a result of his aquaculture proposal. The substance of the Cook applications for an aquaculture license and order of conditions, together with his experience and reputation as a responsible acquaculturist, provided ample rationale for these approvals. The merit of Mr. Cook’s proposal and the lack of any likely or apparent detrimental impact therefrom are evident in the record of the administrative and judicial proceedings conducted in this matter.
Popponesset Bay is an invaluable natural resource in the Town of Mashpee. The board of selectmen and conservation commission certainly considered any potential detrimental impacts to the Bay or nearby properties in the course of the administrative hearings held with respect to this matter. We firmly believe that the public interest in maintaining the scenic and environmental qualities of Popponesset Bay has been adequately protected in these decisions. Aquaculture has been a common practice on Cape Cod and in coastal areas of New England for centuries. It is an environmentally sustainable activity which, according to the opinions of many experts who presented evidence before the board of selectmen and conservation commission, will not harm, and will actually improve the ecology of the Bay. We believe that Popponesset Bay is a natural resource to be enjoyed by and made available to all; it is neither our role nor our objective to conduct governmental regulatory processes solely to advance the interests of those who own property in close proximity to the Bay.
Contrary to the allegations asserted by the neighbors in their recent letter, the actions of the town with respect to the Cook aquaculture grant are clearly based upon and justified by the facts and legal principles referenced in the record. All proceedings undertaken in this matter have been consistent with the public interest in sound and impartial regulatory processes. This is how we believe local government should operate: in the interests of the community as a whole rather than those of a select few.
Wayne E. Taylor
Michael R. Richardson
Carol A. Sherman
John J. Cahalane
Mashpee Board of Selectmen