By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard heard from a roomful of abutters opposed to a new oyster farm proposed by Matthew Loo and his father Thomas Loo, at their meeting on 1/22.
Matthew Loo already operates a one-acre oyster farm in Jack’s Cove. The proposed farm is 1.8 acres in Shaw’s Cove, which is east of West Island and right on the Mattapoisett line.
Mattapoisett has already approved two smaller aquaculture farms right over the line.
The board received 14 letters from 18 abutters all opposed to the new oyster farm. Most of the letter writers also attended the meeting.
Michael Murphy, who said he was with the Shaw’s Cove Improvement Association carried in a four-foot high, barnacled float that had washed up on shore close to where the proposed farm would be.
The Harbormaster and the Marine Resources Committee already recommended approval of the proposal. Monday was a public hearing to get public input. The Selectboard is the licensing authority.
Matthew Loo told the board that the farm would consist of a series of buoys, similar to lobster trap buoys, and a series of pontoons. He said he is limited in where he can put an oyster farm because none can go in the areas that are closed to shellfishing after large rainfalls. It has to be in a shallow area, and cannot be too close to smarinas.
Mr. Loo told the board that the area would be about 30 feet from the shore. He would access it from the Seaview boat ramp.
Harbormaster Timothy Cox told the board that he met with the Department of Marine Fisheries, and they made a detailed map marking the area, including the two in Mattapoisett that are not operational yet. They are all in close proximity to each other and the shore.
Mr. Cox told the board that after approval by the Selectboard, the site would also have to be approved by the Fairhaven Conservation Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers, the US Coast Guard, and the Department of Marine Fisheries.
Selectboard chairperson Bob Espindola said the town had talked about zoning specific areas for shellfish farms, maybe like an overlay district, but was still looking for grant money to do it.
First up to oppose the farm was Josh Darwin, who also submitted a letter. He said he was “very opposed,” to the location of the farm.
“Right on our doorstep,” he said are protected natural lands, referring to several properties that have been protected from development by different entities. He said people have worked very hard to preserve them.
“This is just not the right place,” said Mr. Darwin, adding that it will be a hazard to navigation and will hurt the eel grass.
“Eel grass is important,” said Mr. Darwin. “I don’t know why, but it is.”
He said allowing the fish farm was putting an “industrial plant on the eel grass.”
He admitted to a little NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard), because the farm will ruin his view. He said it might not be a great argument in some places, but in a coastal town, it is.
He also addressed the sites approved by other towns.
“Be better than that,” he said. “Be better than Mattapoisett. Be better than Marion.”
Mr. Darwin also said that the beach in Shaw’s Cove would undoubtedly see equipment washed up in storms. The business of aquaculture, too, is not viable without grants, which come and go. He cited a Standard-Time article that quoted Mr. Loo saying he needed grants to operate.
“I believe we can be a better town than this,” said Mr. Darwin.
Many of his neighbors echoed Mr. Darwin’s concerns.
They cited the navigation hazards, the view, the damage to eel grass, the interference with swimmers, kayakers, paddleboarders, and small watercraft operators.
Bill Hover said the application was vague about methods.
“What are we [going to] see in Shaw’s Cove at low tide,” he asked.
He questioned the assertion in the application that there are benefits to the town, and noted the $200 per acre fee. He said that was “nothing compared to the impact” on the water and the people who use the area.
The area is “pristine,” he said, because of all the protected land around the cove.
“I’m not a birds and bunnies kind of guy,” said Mr. Hover, but, he added, there is an abundance of birds, including Blue Heron and others not seen everywhere.
Mr. Loo was not completely without supporters, who called him a “good guy,” who should be supported.
Ashlee Kirkwood, a Fairhaven resident and Vice President of the Fairhaven-Acushnet Land Preservation Trust, voiced her support for the project. She said the FALPT worked with Matthew when he created his other oyster farm in Jack’s Cove off FALPT lands.
She said it is not an industrial site, it is “unobtrusive.” She also said that eel grass does not grow back on its own, so the neighbors’ assertion that it used to be there and might come back was faulty.
She said DMF will do an eel grass survey and navigation hazard survey, and the farm will have to pass through “12 other agencies.”
She also said oysters are good for the water.
“They vastly improve water quality,” said Ms. Kirkwood, adding that each one filters 50 gallons an hour.
“This is the kind of industry we want,” said Ms. Kirkwood. “We’re a seaside town.”
“It’s a terrible location,” said Barbara Burr.
She agreed that Matt was a nice person, he went to her house and explained his proposal. But, she still felt it would be a navigation hazard, and said she did not know how Mattapoisett could approve the two on their side.
Betsy Allen insisted that the proposed area still has eel grass and made a case for the eel grass, as well as the sailors, swimmers, and paddleboarders who will have to navigate around it.
Michael Murphy went armed with photos of items that have washed up on the shore, in addition to his show-and-tell prop.
Other residents noted that the cove is very small and shallow, freezes completely in winter, and is a place where people already dig for quahogs and clams.
Many of the residents stressed that they were second and third generation Shaw’s Cove residents, and looked forward to passing on a pristine coastline to their children and grandchildren.
Gary Lavalette told the board that there should be a “blueprint” of the shoreline to decide where aquaculture farms should go.
“It it’s not him, it will be someone else,” said Mr. Lavalette.
Jay Pateakos, a Shaw’s Cove resident, asked the board and the public to consider that the people in Shaw’s Cove are not rich people, but working class people.
He said it sounded like a bunch of rich people who just did not want something in their neighborhood, but it was not true.
“My dad called it ‘God’s country,’” said Mr Pateakos, and begged the board to go see for themselves before voting. “We’ll show you the place.”
Tom Darwin told the board that the impact was not just to Shaw’s Cove residents. He said a lot of people get to the cove through the state reservation lands.
He also said that he and his neighbors are often helping disabled boaters who get caught up in the wind and currents there.
He said the lands all around the cove have been preserved to keep it natural.
“This goes in a totally different direction,” he said.
Cora Peirce, president of the FALPT, said she and the organization supported Mr. Loo’s proposal. She said he was a “good guy,” who takes care of his equipment, which is all labeled. The stuff washing up on shore is not his, she said.
“Our biggest problem is Taylor Seafood,” said Ms. Peirce, adding that aquaculture can be an asset to the town.
“Please don’t make [Matt] pay the price for your bad mistakes,” she said, meaning Taylor Seafood.
She said Matt would “make Fairhaven proud.”
“He always makes the land trust proud,” said Ms. Peirce.
Frank DeNaw contributed pictures with his letter showing items that have washed up on the shore. He said the floats get loose, and the cages end up on the bottom and become a navigational hazard at low tide.
“The debris is unbelievable. It’s garbage. It’s plastic, it’s not biodegradable. If I dumped it, I would be a criminal,” said Mr. DeNaw. “I do not see any positive value to the community by allowing this garbage.”
Mr. Loo was not allowed to defend his project, nor was Mr. Cox allowed to comment. Town Administrator Mark Rees told the board they should let the public speak, assemble a list of questions, then hold another meeting to answer the questions raised by residents.
Mr. Espindola told the crowd he was very familiar with the area because he kayaks there. He also said the town was in the middle of updating its rules and regulations.
In the end the board voted to continue the public hearing until March.
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