CHARLESTOWN — One man’s proposal to grow and harvest oysters in a small part of Quonochontaug Pond has faced a slew of questions from Charlestown’s Town Council, but he’s pledged to work with state and local officials to try to bring the plan to fruition.
Mark Keeley of West Hartford applied with the state Coastal Resources Management Council in December for an aquaculture lease around three existing docks in the northeast corner of the pond. The proposal would consist of a rack-and-bag system for growing seed oysters.
About 60 racks would be situated in one-third of an acre of subtidal waters.
“I’ve compromised several times on this and will continue to,” Keeley said. “I’m definitely going to modify (the application).”
The town’s Coastal Pond Management Commission and the council have opposed the application to the CRMC, citing several concerns.
Among them: the depth of the water where the racks would be located could be too shallow to be completely under water at low tide. Officials want Keeley to be able to demonstrate that the racks would be out of sight.
The commission also noted that part of the proposed lease would be in an existing mooring field, which is not permitted.
It also asked the town to clarify if aquaculture is considered farming by ordinance and thus allowed under the zoning for the adjacent property.
Building Official Joseph Warner issued a written opinion Feb. 7 that aquaculture isn’t a permitted use in the Residential 3 Acre zone in question.
“While aquaculture is certainly permitted on the water,” Warner wrote, “once the activity is moved outside its water-based farming activities and becomes land-based, it must conform to the applicable zoning regulations in order to promote the health, safety and welfare of neighboring property owners and the citizens of the town.”
Officials questioned whether “land” activity such as loading and unloading gear, cleaning equipment, shucking, packaging and labeling would run afoul of the regulation.
Lastly, the commission cited concerns about the placement of the lease around permitted docks and whether it would encroach on established 50-foot safety setbacks.
Keeley had a lengthy dialogue with the council at its Feb. 12 meeting, answering questions about the project and also saying he’d return with revisions that address the concerns.
“Everyone will be happy,” he said.
Keeley, who owns a dock on the pond, said he’s grown oysters around the dock for 10 years as part of the now-defunct Oyster Growth and Regeneration Program at Roger Williams University.
“There are 100 growers looking for something else to do,” he said. Keeley said he’s been told by CRMC that he has “one more chance” to change the application.
Solicitor Peter Ruggiero told the council the application could come back again if Keeley modifies it.