Editorial: A bad bill for any shoreline

Posted 6/22/22

The Sakonnet area’s legislative delegation should hit the brakes on bills that would severely restrict oyster farms along the Sakonnet River. With the legislative session expected to adjourn …

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Editorial: A bad bill for any shoreline


The Sakonnet area’s legislative delegation should hit the brakes on bills that would severely restrict oyster farms along the Sakonnet River. With the legislative session expected to adjourn this Friday, there is not enough time, and too many questions and sticking points left unresolved, to responsibly move forward on the bill submitted by Rep. John Edwards, and a Senate version of the bill that could be submitted by the end of the week.

Rep. Edwards’ amended bill would ban all proposed or future oyster farms within 1,000 feet of the Sakonnet River shoreline, and set up a ‘pilot program’ that would track the issue for four or five years.

It’s clear what’s driving the proposed legislation. Opponents of a planned oyster farm are organized, have lots of friends and have protested loudly and regularly that allowing the Bowen brothers of Little Compton the right to grow oysters in the Seapowet shallows in Tiverton would take away a vital public right.

While the public’s right to use the state’s waters is sacred and should be protected, there has to be a middle ground that protects the equally vital right for entrepreneurs to harvest sustainable food sources on state waters. This isn’t it, and this legislation does nothing to establish a fair system that respects the rights of both sides.

One of the most troubling parts of the legislation is its establishment of a 1,000-foot buffer seaward from the shore, where no new farms would be allowed. Proponents of the bill say this buffer would protect the rights of kayakers, anglers and recreational clammers. But what would legislating such a large buffer also accomplish?

If farms were forced to move that far out into open water, expect the current squabbling to pale in comparison to the conflicts that will occur when $60,000 center consoles foul their props on floating or submerged gear. And nobody is saying it, but forcing farmers that far offshore will effectively legislate them out of existence, as setting up gear in deeper water, with constant bombardment by traffic, wind and waves, will not be cost-effective.

Even though he supports the legislative action, Tiverton Town Councilor Jay Edwards said last week that restricting the bill(s) to the Sakonnet River shoreline sounds like NIMBYism — ’Not In My Back Yard.'

We agree on that point. If proponents of the legislation truly have all interests in mind, allow the General Assembly to consider the plan as originally submitted, and enforce its prohibitions statewide. That it would undoubtedly be defeated says all one needs to know about the merits of this proposal. The only other option then would be to throw out this clumsy attempt and come up with a new regulatory process — not rooted in state law — that treats both sides fairly.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.