A new chapter is about to begin for a controversial plan, four years old now, to establish a small oyster farm off Seapowet Avenue. Members of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on …
A new chapter is about to begin for a controversial plan, four years old now, to establish a small oyster farm off Seapowet Avenue.
Members of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on Tuesday evening voted to refer the application, submitted originally in 2019 by Little Compton brothers Patrick and Sean Bowen, to the agency’s newly appointed hearing officer for review and a recommendation.
Much of Tuesday’s discussion focused on procedural matters and whether written comments received by CRMC on the Bowens’ proposal are “substantive,” in which case the application would be considered a contested case and referred to the hearing officer.
During a discussion of the numerous formal written objections sent to CRMC, many of which referred to the scenic and recreational value of the area in which the oyster farm would be located, CRMC Executive Director Jeffrey Willis said many of the comments could be characterized as substantive.
CRMC representative Donald Gomez, referring to the size of the oyster farm and other projects underway nearby, disagreed.
“Give me a break. It’s a .9 acre” parcel, he said. “You are talking about miles of river and you’re talking about people now selling lots a half mile down the road, right next to state land. To me, that is substantive.”
In the 7-1 decision to refer the matter to the hearing officer, Gomez cast the dissenting vote.
In outlining next steps, CRMC attorney Anthony DeSisto said the assignment of a hearing officer could possibly make the next stage of decision-making more streamlined. The officer’s job will likely mirror what subcommittees have done in the past, he said. This includes setting up a schedule that would include hearings in the town affected — in this case, Tiverton.
“It may go a little bit quicker than it has historically with subcommittees and even hearings before this council.”
Patrick Bowen said Tuesday’s decision was not unexpected, though he and his brother disagree with CRMC’s underlying premise in justifying the referral.
“We have argued that objections to our application, though numerous, are not substantive and do not meet the necessary evidentiary threshold. Our claim is substantiated by two CRMC staff reports which address these objections in detail.”
Bowen said he and his brother remain “undaunted in our pursuit to farm oysters and are confident in the location and method we have chosen. We have received approval from every necessary regulatory agency and look forward to the upcoming hearings.”