STONINGTON — Before an audience of about 40 residents, most of them opposed to a local man’s application to grow shellfish in Quiambaug Cove, the Shellfish Commission deemed the proposal incomplete because state and federal permits and an updated eelgrass survey of the site were missing.
Dana Lewis, doing business as Stonington Aquafarms, has faced opposition to his proposal to grow oysters in Quiambaug Cove since last summer when he submitted an earlier version of the application. His two-phased plan now calls for a 1.74-acre sandbar in the cove for seeding oysters and a 7.7-acre lease site for depuration located 100 feet south of the Stonington breakwater, which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Lewis, who summered in Lords Point during childhood and attended Mystic Middle School, recently moved to Stonington from Milford with his wife, Tara Galbo, and their son, Asher.
Donald Murphy, who chairs of the Shellfish Commission, reminded the audience that the meeting was not a public hearing on the application even though residents could speak about the project during public commentary period.
Resident James Carlton, who is a professor emiritus of marine sciences at Williams College, said the admission of oyster shells to the cove would attract Codium fragile, known as dead man’s fingers, an invasive seaweed species that attaches itself to oyster shells.
“Oystering in Quiambaug Cove could create a vast, extensive forest of dead man’s fingers, which, while in the cove now, is highly constrained in its abundance by lack of enough hard bottom, that is until oysters are introduced, which would create ideal conditions for Codium to grow and flourish,” he said. “Simply planting hundreds of thousands of oysters and hoping for a positive outcome is a 19th century approach to Quiambaug Cove because the cove of the 21st century is a very different place now. This is the path of unintended consequences.”
Resident Mary Motherway said growing oysters in a sandbar, instead of containing them in bags or cages, would allow them to spread across the cove, imperiling the scallop population and habitat.
Resident Lynn Conway argued that the long-term effects of the project would be irreversible and asked the commission to authorize an accredited survey of the cove so that the impact could be assessed scientifically.
Steve Malinowski of Fisher Island Oyster Farm, which also has a hatchery in Stonington, spoke in favor of the project, adding he had heard a lot of misinformation that aquaculture farms decrease nearby property values.
“There are 400 plus farms, small farms in the many in areas like Quiambaug Cove, and there is not one little shred of evidence that they have in any way decreased property values,” he said.
The commission concluded it could neither assign the project an official application number nor schedule a public hearing until Lewis obtained the state and federal permits required for the breakwater depuration site.
Lewis said the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was currently reviewing the permits and he expected to hear back in about six months.
The commission also requested that Lewis obtain a current eelgrass survey of Quiambaug Cove because Lewis’ application referenced 2012 and 2016 data.
Murphy also said public comments, both written and verbal, would need to be resubmitted if and when a public hearing was scheduled for the application.