BRUNSWICK — After nearly four hours of discussion that included a challenge from commercial fishermen, Mere Point Oyster Co.’s application for a 40-acre oyster farm remained on hold after a Nov. 19 hearing.
The Department of Marine Resources hearing will extend to a third session, when the Concerned Citizens of Maquoit Bay, also known as the Maquoit Bay Preservation Group, will resume testimony that began Nov. 15.
The next hearing has not yet been scheduled, but the DMR must provide at least 30 days notice, which puts off the discussion until late December, at the earliest.
During Monday night’s hearing at Brunswick High School, a group of local commercial fishermen, represented by Tom Santaguida and John Powers, asked the DMR to deny Mere Point’s application for a 10-year lease in Maquoit Bay on the grounds that the fishermen “are rightfully entitled to use this space for fishing” and “have been for years.”
Mere Point owners Dan Deveraux and Doug Nivens claim that fishermen, kayakers, and sailors can continue to use the bay and their activity won’t be greatly impacted.
“Why should we go away so a couple of people can use it exclusively?” Santaguida asked the department Monday night.
According to Santaguida, two different site reports by the DMR contradict each another, with one site review stating that the area had an abundance of activity, and another review stating the area was “rarely fished.”
“(There are) many fishermen who have fished in this specific area for more than 75 years,” Santaguida said, calling all other claims “inaccurate.”
The two fishermen claim that the area is fished quite often and at times can be rather lucrative for them.
“When that place fishes, it fishes like wildfire,” Powers said. “It’s a dynamite fishing area at certain times of the year.”
Powers said at different times between June and October the dynamics of the bottom are “very conducive for lobster.”
“That’s why we go there and that’s why we want to be able to go there; we don’t what to lose that.”
Andrew Ulrikson, a fourth-generation local lobsterman, said he put traps down in the proposed leasing area on Monday.
“There’s still lobsters there,” Urlikson said. “I took some home today and ate them. … Mere Point Oyster Co. must be looking for traps at the wrong times of the year.”
Cameron and Tyler Niven, sons of Doug Niven, who co-owns Mere Point with Harbormaster Dan Devereaux, both have commercial fishing licenses and testified Monday.
Tyler Niven admitted he does not haul in as many lobster traps as “the other guys,” since he is a college student and away from Maine most of the year. But he said he does not set his traps in the proposed lease site anymore because he does not see many other traps there and “can’t afford to waste any extras.”
Doug Niven said after the hearing that through drone video and other means of research, neither he nor Deveraux saw many traps at the proposed lease site and only three lobster buoys were there when they examined the area in October.
Jon Lewis, Marine Resources aquaculture program director, presented the department’s site report during Monday night’s hearing. Lewis said during his “meandering dive,” part of the proposed site had “no attached vegetation” and a “soft bottom.”
Lewis also said during his dive, he saw some dead pogies, one lobster, and a few horseshoe crabs, although he admitted the visibility “wasn’t that great” and he didn’t dive throughout the entire proposed lease site.
However, several fishermen claimed to have seen eelgrass in the area recently while hauling traps, even though ecologist Alyssa Novak said in her testimony on Thursday that the proposed lease site was “not conducive for eelgrass growth.”
Eelgrass was once abundant in Maquoit Bay, but hasn’t been since it was eradicated six years ago.
There were also concerns from the public brought on Nov. 15 about the material washed off oyster cages and into the bottom and the impact that sediment could have on the sea bottom and the environment.
Lewis said with Maine’s “good tidal flushing” and oyster cages being flipped regularly, it “should not be a problem.”
Two experts also weighed in on the auditory and visual impacts of the proposed lease site, which were worries for the Concerned Citizens of Maquoit Bay.
Landscape architect Terrance Dewan, proprietor of Terrance Dewan and Associates in Yarmouth, assessed the visual impact and the area and determined it is in accordance with the requirements set by DMR.
Charles Wallace, an environmental engineer who specializes in architectural and environmental noise impacts, said Deveraux and Niven were within the noise requirements. And, according to Wallace, regardless of which side of the lease boundary he and his team were on, the noise of the onsite oyster tumbler and the noise of the generator was less than the sound of the human voice.
Wallace said that Niven and Deveraux have the proper equipment to minimize noise and routine operations on site would not create an abundance of noise. Wallace also added that the business would not need a permit to operate the equipment as long as employees are not working longer than eight hours, which is an OSHA standard.
Several people testified that jet skis and airboats in the area are significantly louder than what Mere Point Oyster Co.’s operations would be.
After the hearing, Deveraux said he was not happy.
“It costs us thousands of dollars to keep coming to these things,” he said. “Pushing this off, I just don’t get it. That’s the idea of the opposition, to outspend.”
Members of the public listen to testimony Monday, Nov. 19, at Brunswick High School on Mere Point Oyster Co.’s application for a 40-acre commercial aquaculture operation.
Paul Dioli, of Concerned Citizens of Maquiot Bay, questions a witness during the Nov. 19 Brunswick hearing on Mere Point Oyster Co.’s application for a 10-year, 40-acre aquaculture lease.