Letter: Proposed Tiverton oyster farm presents serious hazard to navigation

Posted 7/12/21

To the editor:

This letter serves as a warning to all decision makers regarding the proposed oyster farms in the Seapowet Waterway. I have sailed the Sakonnet since the 1960’s. I lived on my …

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Letter: Proposed Tiverton oyster farm presents serious hazard to navigation

Posted

To the editor:

This letter serves as a warning to all decision makers regarding the proposed oyster farms in the Seapowet Waterway. I have sailed the Sakonnet since the 1960’s. I lived on my yawl in Tiverton Harbor year round for four years. I have sailed 20,000 ocean miles since. I know a hazard at sea. 

The Sakonnet is unique in Rhode Island. The shores are not dotted with industrial or marina use. The Sakonnet offers views of rolling farms and stone walls. The water above Fogland is shallow except for the channel. This is why we don’t have shipping traffic. 

On a summer southwest breeze, power boats returning on a Sunday from the Cape and Islands, duck into the Sakonnet to head up the bay to the western marinas, rather than face the southwest wind offshore. The channel narrows and is near to shore at R10 off Seapowet Point. This creates a zone of heavy wake and traffic. Consequently, numerous small vessels seek safer water outside the channel to the east. The area is calmer and there is some protection from the fetch from the south by Seapowet Point. 

The launch area at the Seapowet bridge, both from the beach, inside the estuary and to the south along Driftwood Drive, is quite popular. These public sites provide safe jumping off points for canoes, kayaks, and small boats. Many of these folks are new to the water, many from underserved communities. They launch and set out to explore what the locals call “The Seapowet Waterway” which links the Seapowet Marsh beach areas to the small ponds and inlets, Jack’s Island and the Emilie Reucker Audubon refuge in upper Seapowet to the north. 

Use of this Seapowet Waterway regularly includes fishermen wading, clamming, swimming, kayakers paddling and fishing, small craft such as Sunfish and catboats, small power boats fishing the coastline, kite boards, windsurfers, and yachts dropping their hook to raft up in the protection of Seapowet Point. 

If the proposed Boehringer and Lundgren three-acre floating farm is permitted, this will cause a serious danger to all the small craft that enjoy this last gorgeous seascape on our Sakonnet. If the Bowen application is approved by CRMC, then the many people who use the estuary, beach and shoreline for fishing and enjoying the water will be impacted by an acre of shallow underwater traps. Someone is going to trip or get tangled up in this mess. 

Imagine a summer or fall day, the fish are running and you are chasing the blues up the coast. A thunderhead appears to the west. You’re near Jack’s Island and the storm is coming fast. Wind whips up — wind against tide. The water is stacking up everywhere. 

You paddle as hard as you can to get back to your launch at the Seapowet Bridge. But you get tangled up in acres of steel cable, floating plastic traps. You get disoriented. Perhaps you are sculling as you do often. You row backwards always. You lose an oar in the cables, you fall in. You panic because you’re a novice on the water in your kayak or rowing shell. 

This is not a fictional scenario. Over the years there have been rescues up and down the Sakonnet, near the harbor and much further south. I personally stood on station in my boat as I waited for the Coast Guard with three panicked men without an engine getting blown out to sea in a strong northerly. My wife and son have stood on station waiting for the Coast Guard when a fisherman was killed when he fell over into his motor. 

The truth is, the water is not the same as land. As we encourage underserved communities to use the water in RI, and we especially invite them to Seapowet, we must recognize that many don’t have the skills necessary to understand and survive unfamiliar obstructions at sea. Folks travel often to enjoy the Seapowet Waterway, and they should be able to do this without barriers. 

With the wonderful Emilie Reucker Wildlife Audubon preserve on the north end and the Audubon Seapowet Marsh on the southern end, the Seapowet Waterway is one of the last near pristine areas accessible to all in our state. The parking is free, the beach accessible. With the crowding of other water access points, the popularity of this beach has grown exponentially during the pandemic. 

Therefore, the decision by the Tiverton Harbor Commission and the review and potential approval by CRMC to allow shallow traps in a heavily used public area, as well as three acres of cabling and floating traps off Seapowet Point, pose a public safety hazard. Someone is going to get hurt. 

True abutter and stakeholder notification and feedback could have avoided the outcry. Please help us keep this waterway safe for all. 

Clint Clemens 

Seapowet Seaway

Tiverton

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Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.