Letter: State, not town, should dictate lease arrangements

Posted 1/26/22

Editor's note: This letter was recently submitted to Ben Goetsch, CRMC Aquaculture Coordinator, from John Bowen, one of two brothers from Little COmpton proposing an oyster farm off Seapowet Road.

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Letter: State, not town, should dictate lease arrangements


Editor's note: This letter was recently submitted to Ben Goetsch, CRMC Aquaculture Coordinator, from John Bowen, one of two brothers from Little COmpton proposing an oyster farm off Seapowet Road.

Dear Mr. Goetsch:

Since the National Aquaculture Act of 1980 declared, “It is, therefore, in the national interest, and it is the national policy, to encourage the development of aquaculture in the United States”, one of the recurring complaints and predominant recommendations for aquaculture regulatory reform has been simplification of the application process required to obtain a permit. This has been brought to the forefront through legislation many times in the intervening years, and in many states, including Rhode Island.

As recently as 2021, in its report, A STRATEGIC PLAN TO ENHANCE REGULATORY EFFICIENCY IN AQUACULTURE, the Regulatory Efficiency Task Force (Subcommittee on Aquaculture, National Science and Technology Council) identified “Improve efficiencies in aquaculture permitting” as the number one goal, and stated:

“The regulatory framework for aquaculture is complex, involving multiple jurisdictions, laws, regulations, and agencies that aim to protect public health, conserve environmental resources, and regulate commerce. These laws and regulations were enacted to serve important public purposes. However, the multiple Federal and State approvals required to farm seafood create time-consuming and costly processes and an unclear operating environment for aquaculture businesses”.

The proposed enhancements to the Coastal Resources Management Council aquaculture application process, as discussed during the Bay SAMP Aquaculture Element Working Group Meeting, clearly run contrary to the spirit of both the National Aquaculture Act of 1980 and the recommendations of the Regulatory Efficiency Task Force, not to mention the RI Legislative Commission on Aquaculture, whose charge it was in 1995 to streamline the aquaculture hearing process, create a coordinated application process, and study the opportunities and constraints of aquaculture in the Ocean State.

The existing, long-standing CRMC aquaculture application process is thorough and highly detailed, offering numerous opportunities for public comment, and subjecting applicants to multiple public hearings. Acknowledging the significance of leasing public property to an individual for commercial purposes, it is imperative that this process should not be treated lightly as a function of the State, but it is important that it be treated as a function of the State. This obligation should not be delegated in whole or in part to municipalities or their committees, people who have opinions and often vested interest as waterfront property owners – but little or no expertise in aquaculture. As the lead regulatory agency for marine aquaculture in Rhode Island, it is Coastal Resources Management Council, not

municipalities, which is responsible for assuring the coastal waters of Rhode Island are managed in the best interest of the entire state. The coastal waters adjoining a town belong to the State of Rhode Island – they do not belong to the town.

By implementing the proposed changes to the application process, CRMC will be modifying a process which is not broken, adding numerous unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. The requirement of the applicant to hold a “Scoping Session” is duplicitous, and simply reiterates the purpose of the Preliminary Determination Meeting, in the absence of CRMC coordination. It is an unrealistic expectation to require an applicant to coordinate this type of meeting and will be an opportunity for “mob rule”, rather than garnering information. It is interesting to note that a waterfront property owner who wishes to apply for CRMC assent to install a dock extending into state water (and benefitting only the property owner), has only a single application to submit, with no preliminary determination, and no scoping session.

Additionally, perhaps the biggest impediment to marine aquaculture nationwide has been the objections of coastal property owners – often the most wealthy, typically engaging legal counsel, and perpetuating legal formalities until the applicant withdraws their application. In areas like the East Bay, this is especially troubling, as coastal properties are being purchased at exorbitant prices by people from other regions of the country, and “boxing out” generations of people who have grown up in these towns.

Notification to coastal property owners within 500 feet of proposed aquaculture site boundaries assures that the most wealthy will have a disproportionately amplified voice in the placement of shellfish aquaculture sites. The view of the ocean belongs no more to a waterfront property owner than it does to any other Rhode Island resident. Once again, the coastal waters adjoining a town belong to the State of Rhode Island – they do not belong to the town, and certainly not the waterfront property owner. Affording this emphatic voice to the elite all but assures that future aquaculture development in Rhode Island will be negligible or non-existent.

I call on Coastal Resources Management Council to stand strong, be proud to carry out the tenet of the National Aquaculture Act, and “encourage the development of aquaculture in the United States”. Leave the CRMC aquaculture application process intact, and don’t offer undue deference to the whims of a fortunate few.

John F. Bowen

Little Compton

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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.