Kelp farm off Chebeague Island seeks lease extension

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CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — Renewal of an aquaculture lease off Chebeague Island that generated opposition when it was first granted will be discussed at a Department of Marine Resources public hearing next week.

Ocean Approved, which sells edible kelp cubes and seaweed salad, has applied for a 10-year lease of just over 3 acres west-southwest of Indian Point, north of Little Chebeague Island. The Portland company wants to cultivate sugar kelp, horsetail kelp and winged kelp.

The meeting will take place Sept. 27 at 1 p.m. at the Chebeague Island Hall Community Center. 

The DMR is also accepting public comment until Oct. 11 on an aquaculture lease application in Yarmouth.

Ocean Approved already has a limited-purpose experimental aquaculture lease on the location, but is seeking a longer term. According to Diantha Robinson of DMR, a public hearing is required when applying to operate over a longer period of time.

Although it has been four years since the three-year experimental lease was approved, Ocean Approved applied for the 10-year lease before the old one expired. Robinson said this allows the company to continue operating under the current lease.

Ocean Approved had a pre-application meeting with DMR in September 2014 and a scoping session in July 2015.

With experimental leases, hearings aren’t required, but will be held if five or more people submit requests in writing. When Ocean Approved applied for the experimental lease in 2011, enough Chebeague Islanders made written requests to warrant a public hearing.

“There was some testimony and opposition at the time,” Robinson said.

Approximately 20 people attended the public hearing in December 2011. A group of Chebeague Island lobstermen opposed the application, with some saying it could affect their livelihood and others saying public property shouldn’t be leased for private use.

The application was approved in 2012.

This time, Robinson said she has received neither complaints nor comments from the public. 

DMR is accepting written comments until Sept. 26. 

Lee Bowman, a lobsterman from Chebeague Island who spoke at the 2011 public hearing, said he has mixed feelings about Ocean Approved seeking a longer lease.

“I’m not opposed to aquacultures per se,” he said. “I think growing kelp is a fine thing.”

Bowman said it’s the process behind aquaculture enterprises that he doesn’t like.

“It’s somewhat of a philosophical debate because you’re taking public property and using it for private use,” he said. “You’re doing it on property that belongs to everyone in the state of Maine.”

Approximately 40 lobstermen live on Chebeague Island, Bowman said, and he doesn’t think Ocean Approved’s aquaculture has had a big impact on them.

“As far as I know it’s not too problematic,” he said.

Bowman said his biggest concern is, over time, more people and companies will want to start aquaculture businesses, which could squeeze out other users.

“The ocean is public domain, and we as fishermen need a lot of space to fish for lobster,” he said. “The issue of taking up too much space could be problematic, but at this point it’s not.”

According to the DMR, if the Sept. 27 public hearing doesn’t end by a reasonable hour an additional public hearing will be held Sept. 29 at the same time and place.

Yarmouth application

The DMR is also accepting comments on an application for a three-year experimental aquaculture lease on two tracts totaling 3.2 acres.

One would be along the southeast coastline of Little Moshier Island and the other would be located southeast of Moshier Island.

The application was submitted by Keith Butterfield of Raymond for suspended cultures of American/Eastern oysters and sea scallops. In his application, Butterfield said he wants to observe the species’ growth rates and see if they are commercially viable.

Public comments are being accepted until Oct. 11 and can be sent to 21 State House Station in Augusta or emailed to diantha.robinson@maine.gov and cindy.l.burke@maine.gov.

Requests for a public hearing must be submitted in writing by at least five people by the Oct. 11 deadline.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Paul Dobbins of Ocean Approved LLC hauls a rope of kelp from his farm in Casco Bay near Chebeague Island in 2011.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.