Members of the Little Compton Town Council last Thursday voted to oppose a bill that would restrict aquaculture farms along the Sakonnet River to 1,000 feet offshore or more. In doing so, they gave …
Members of the Little Compton Town Council last Thursday voted to oppose a bill that would restrict aquaculture farms along the Sakonnet River to 1,000 feet offshore or more. In doing so, they gave strong support to brothers Patrick and John Bowen of Little Compton, who have been seeking state CRMC approval to build a one-acre farm off Seapowet bridge for three years.
House Bill 5037, introduced in January by District 70 Rep. John Edwards of Tiverton and co-sponsored by Rep. Marvin Abney (Middletown and Newport) and Rep. Terri Cortvriend (Middletown and Portsmouth), is similar to a bill presented last session at the request of the Tiverton Town Council.
It would establish a two-year pilot program that would require all offshore new aquaculture leases on either shore to be sited not less than 1,000 feet from the median high tide line as of July 1, 2023. Those already in operation within that buffer — there are currently two, one in Little Compton and one in Tiverton — would be exempt. The pilot program and its 1,000-foot requirement would expire in July 2025, unless renewed by the General Assembly.
Patrick Bowen, who along with his brother asked the council to file a resolution opposing the legislation, said the proposed law is a thinly veiled attack on the brothers' plan to put a one-acre submerged farm about 300 feet offshore, southwest of the Seapowet bridge.
"It's not about us, except that it's about us," Bowen said of the legislation.
The Bowens' plan has drawn sharp criticism in Tiverton, where residents along Seapowet Avenue and elsewhere have complained that the farm would threaten access to inshore waters and would harm the recreational fishermen and kayakers who regularly use the area. Residents have started a website, and have hired attorneys to help defeat the project.
But Patrick Bowen, who said the site was chosen due to its dynamic tidal action and nutrient-rich nature, told the council that the farm will not impede boaters or fishermen from using the area.
He added that the proposed legislation does not follow the spirit and word of zoning ordinances in both Little Compton and Tiverton. Those zoning ordinances, he said, "specifically state that the purpose of zoning is to encourage, among other things, agriculture including aquaculture."
"What this is doing is taking farms and putting them in a place where they're going to be in more danger" and likely in more interference with commercial and recreational boating and fishing," he said. "It would eliminate small farms in favor of larger industrial ones, and it's likely going to result in fewer aquaculture farms."
Councilors said they were happy to draft a resolution in support of the Bowens and in opposition to the legislation. It will be sent to District 71 Rep. Michelle McGaw (Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth), and Sen. Louis DiPalma (Little Compton, Middletown, Newport and Tiverton), who has drafted but not yet submitted a Senate companion version of the bill.
"We support you," councilor Paul Golembeske said. "This just strikes me like people who move next to a farm ... and then they realize what's on the ground in the farm and say, 'I don't want to see that.'"
As for the three-year process to earn CRMC approval, councilor Patrick McHugh said, "it's been quite a grind for you guys. I don't know why it's still sitting there — I find that odd."
Rep. Edwards did not return an email left seeking comment on the legislation.