Coast Guard probes mussel farm approval in Casco Bay

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The U.S. Coast Guard is reviewing the placement of a mussel aquaculture farm in Casco Bay that was approved this spring.

The farm, off the coast of Little Chebeague and Long islands, became an issue this summer for recreational boaters traveling between Chebeague Island and Falmouth’s popular moorings near Mussel Cove. The boaters frequently use the channel where the new mussel floats are tethered.

In a story two weeks ago in The Forecaster, some boaters complained the floats are difficult to see, particularly in low visibility or at night.

“The Coast Guard Waterways Management in South Portland is concerned and evaluates every complaint,” U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Bob Albert said this week. “We have not yet concluded whether the aquaculture farm is a hazard in the waterway.”

Coast Guard Lt. Nicholas Barrow said the Coast Guard approved permits for private aids to navigation on the mussel floats, which include yellow buoys denoting aquaculture, and two flashing lights.

“Information that may suggest something is a hazard, we take very seriously,” Barrow said.

Albert said boaters in the area should note the location of the farm and avoid it in the future.

“We’re currently making a determination whether (farm owner) Trundy Point LLC has placed buoys and lights as prescribed by the permit,” Albert said.

The Department of Marine Resources approved a lease for the location of the farm.

DMR Aquaculture Hearings Officer Diantha Robinson said the department uses an extensive public process before issuing a lease to an aquaculture farm.

“It’s difficult to tell where concerns will come from,” Robinson said. “We can’t mail notices to everyone in Cumberland County.”

Robinson said there were several public hearings held on Long Island, as well as extensive meetings with the town’s harbormaster and Board of Selectmen. The public meetings were advertised last winter in the Portland Press Herald.

When asked if the department was concerned that the public process took place while some recreational boaters were unavailable, Robinson said the department relies on local officials, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine that the placement of an aquaculture farm is appropriate.

“It’s a very public process. We understand this is a state that has seasonal users. We can’t always schedule things when people are here,” she said.

The floats, owned by Peter Stocks of Calendar Island Mussels, were approved by the DMR for a 10-year lease that will be remain in place as long as the owner fulfills the terms of the lease.

“I am pleased the Coast Guard is looking into this problem,” said Falmouth recreational boater Chuck McCatherin, who filed one of the complaints. “The placement is a serious issue and 10 years is a long time. They should allow the owners to move the floats without a full re-permitting process.”

McCatherin said he supports aquaculture in Maine and understands the mussel farm went through the proper permitting process.

“The approval process used to locate the floats was flawed, not the applicant’s intent to do what was best,” McCatherin said. “From what I understand, the owner placed the floats based on input from the public process. The public process simply did not involve diverse enough input.”

Peter Stocks could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

 Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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