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Hearings set for kelp farms sought near Chebeague, Jewell islands

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Hearings set for kelp farms sought near Chebeague, Jewell islands

CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — Proponents and opponents of two experimental three-year leases of the waters off the coasts of Chebeague and Jewell islands are preparing to make their cases to the state Department of Marine Resources.

Ocean Approved LLC, which maintains a kelp farm near Little Chebeague Island, want to use the additional locations to grow several varieties of kelp to sell as food.

The project has been funded largely by a $300,000 grant the company received in September from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Small Business Innovative Research program.

Ocean Approved was the first kelp farm to open in the United States. Owners Paul Dobbins and Tollef Olson have said they chose the two new locations because they represent different ocean currents and will allow the company to experiment with a variety of kelp in different waters to see what works best.

But some lobstermen and island residents oppose the two locations, over concerns that the farms will interfere with fishing and moorings.

At least 13 people have submitted letters requesting an adjudicatory hearing on the Chebeague Island lease, and at least five have requested the same hearing for Jewell Island.

The Chebeague Island hearing will be held Dec. 19 at 11:30 a.m. at the Chebeague Island Hall Community Center, 247 South Road. The Jewell Island hearing will be held Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. at Community Hall on Cliff Island.

The hearings are formal fact-finding sessions where witnesses will be called to testify under oath. It will then be up to the DMR commissioner to determine whether the lease interferes unreasonably with lobster fishing and other uses of the areas. 

Those who wrote letters asking for the Chebeague Island hearing, including the Chebeague Island harbor master, several long-time lobstermen, and representatives from the Chebeague Island Community Association, expressed concerns that the proposed location would interfere with lobster fishing, a planned future town mooring site, and riparian rights for nearby landowners.

The Jewell Island letters were all faxed together to the DMR and contained no reasons for their hearing request. Each requester signed a brief statement requesting the hearing. They did not provide addresses or contact information.

Dobbins said he and Olson have been preparing for the hearings, while in the midst of their busiest season at the kelp nursery at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Commercial Street in Portland.

He would not elaborate on their plans for testimony at the hearing, or share his thoughts on the hearing, saying only that they hope lobstermen will be the prime users of the aquaculture they develop with these leases.

"This can all co-exist," Dobbins said. "We just have to convince everyone it can."

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