WESTERLY — Plans for a 10-acre kelp farm off Napatree Point will not move forward now that an application has been rejected by the state Coastal Resources Management Council.
The applicant had hoped to farm the area and showcase the town's aquaculture potential while making a small move toward improving water quality in the area, but opponents said it would detract from the look of the area, interfere with commercial and recreational fishing, and disturb waterfowl.
The council voted unanimously against approving Westerly resident Joseph MacAndrew's application for the farm on July 28. The vote followed sworn testimony by a slew of opponents that included commercial fishermen, University of Rhode Island scientists, and representatives of Watch Hill conservation and preservation organizations.
MacAndrew, both during the council's meeting and in an interview Monday, questioned the logic of the council's vote, conclusions reached by CRMC staff, and opinions asserted by opponents.
Benjamin Goetsch, CRMC aquauculture coordinator, explained his opposition to the proposal, saying he was "not satisfied it won't have a significant impact on traditional fisheries." Goetsch succeeded Dave Buetel, who retired at the end of June after more than 10 years as CRMC's aquaculture coordinator.
Buetel had recommended approval of MacAndrew's application, but made his recommendation prior to the state Marine Fisheries Council recommending against approval of the application on grounds the kelp farm would be inconsistent fisheries in the area.
MacAndrew, who is chairman of the Westerly Conservation Commission and holds a commercial fisherman's license, on Monday questioned Goetsch's failure to support Buetel's determination. MacAndrew also said the kelp farm would not interfere with commercial or recreational fishermen and he raised a procedural concern, saying he was not notified of the time and date of the Marine Fisheries Council meeting when the council voted to recommend against approving his application.
The proposed area of the kelp farm, about 1,000 feet off Napatree Point, has a sandy bottom and as a result is not a place to find lobsters, he said. He also questioned an argument that fishermen sometimes use the area to store their gear when major storms hit the area, noting that others called it a "high energy area" where wave and tide action would likely disrupt the kelp farm equipment and scatter it through surrounding waters.
"It defies logic," MacAndrew said.
Regarding a concern that waterfowl would be scared off by the kelp farm, MacAndrew said, the farm would likely attract waterfowl because the farm would draw mussels and increase other food sources.
Alternative sites suggested by the state Department of Environmental Management, including the waters off East Beach in front of the Ocean House, were not suitable due to wave energy and other obstacles, MacAndrew said.
Jason Jarvis, a commercial fishermen who works out of Westerly, said underwater gear for the kelp farm "would be an obstacle for many stakeholders." Increasingly, Jarvis said, fishermen work in local waters for longer stretches of time because of mild winters. He also noted that new species of fish are being found in the area as the temperature of the water increases. The kelp farm would have operated from Nov. 1 to April 30.
The DEM said the kelp farm would pose a threat to waterfowl and fishing in the area.
Town Council President Christopher Duhamel noted the council's opposition to the proposal based on grounds it would detract from the "pristine" look of Napatree Point. Westerly's town planner and director of development services initially submitted letters of support for MacAndrew's application but later requested the letters be rescinded.
Several Watch Hill residents and organizations made the same point as Duhamel, but Goetsch questioned whether the farm's buoys would be visible from the shore.
MacAndrew also questioned the argument related to aesthetics.
"I don't know how moorings on one side of Napatree are going to be an eyesore and moorings on the side, at the Watch Hill Yacht Club, are looked at as some beautiful place," MacAndrew said.
Robin Main, a lawyer representing the Watch Hill Conservancy, said a conservation easement the conservancy holds over Napatree Point "mandates the conservancy pursues remedies that protect Napatree Point, and that is why they are here tonight, because, among others things, this will effect the pristine nature of that area."
The CRMC's motion to deny the application was based on the farm's "impact on commercial fishing and wildlife."