Despite objections, Harpswell Planning Board OK's seafood processing plant

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HARPSWELL — The Planning Board on Wednesday night approved a new shellfish processing plant on Wallace Shore Road.

The project, in a primarily residential neighborhood, encountered opposition from neighbors along the way.

“(I believe) the business can function in a similar manner elsewhere,” Wallace Shore Road resident Amber Mason said at Wednesday night’s meeting.

The applicant, Scott Moody, who also owns Moody’s Seafood on Cundy’s Harbor Road, wants to build a 1,500-square-foot oyster growing and processing facility that draws seawater, on a nearly 40,000-square-foot property.

The first time Moody turned in his proposal to the board in January, it was rejected because it was incomplete. At the time, several residents had questions for Moody about light, noise, traffic, and clearing vegetation that the board felt were not answered in the application.

Moody came back to the March 16 meeting with a more complete plan. The proposed building, he wrote in the project description, would contain three separate tanks.

The first would be used for growing juvenile oysters for future placement in leased sites around Harpswell. The second would purge mud and sand from the shellfish, and the third would sterilize the product with UV light.

“We would then be able to market our shellfish as purged and bacteria free,” Moody wrote. “This would create a superior shellfish that will help the overall reputation of Harpswell shellfish as being the best product on the market.

He also set the building farther back from nearby wetlands, and secured letters of support from the local volunteer fire department and the town road commissioner.

A letter from a representative of Camden National Bank certified that Moody has two accounts there, both of which maintain a monthly average balance “in excess” of $100,000.

The Planning Board unanimously voted that the application was complete.

But Mason, a property abutter, said she still had significant concerns about potential conflicts with local ordinances.

Noting that the site is in the town’s Resource Protection District, she said its development could only be allowed if the business qualifies as a “functionally water-dependent use.”

Arguing that many aquaculture companies operate on land using recirculating systems, she said Moody’s processing facility did not actually have to be located on the shoreline.

She noted the surrounding wetlands are considered “high value” by the town, and contain seacoast tuber-bulrush, a rare plant species in Maine.

“That’s the resource we are deciding to put at risk here,” she said. “I’m not here to fight … I’m here to lay out the facts.”

She also claimed that more than 40 percent of the trees on the property have already been cleared, in violation of a local ordinance.

Moody pushed back on both counts. He said he had specifically designed the facility to be dependent on water.

“We need nutrient-rich (sea water),” he told the board. “We’re trying to keep the same character of the oysters.”

When board members said they had noticed what appeared to be clearing on the property on a site walk last Friday, Moody said that he had recently removed about 1,000 lobster traps, so it only looked more open.

The board eventually sided with Moody, declaring the processing plant will be water-dependent and allowing him to move forward.

It did not rule on whether Moody had broken the law in clearing the land, saying that is an issue for the codes office.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Scott Moody’s proposed Harpswell shellfish processing plant would contain three holding tanks fed by ocean water.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.