WESTERLY — United in a belief that an area in the waters just off Napatree Point is the wrong location for a proposed kelp farm, the Town Council voted unanimously Monday to communicate their opposition to the project to state regulators.
The council's vote came after several Watch Hill officials and representatives of environmental preservation groups went to the podium in Council Chambers at Town Hall to discuss their concerns for the 10-acre farm proposed by Joseph MacAndrew, a resident who serves as chairman of the municipal Conservation Commission and is active in several other town and regional environmental organizations.
Opponents said the farm would foul the view, pose navigational hazards, threaten wildlife and make the area less productive for commercial fishermen. MacAndrew pushed back on most of the criticisms and said state officials raised very few concerns during a preliminary review of his plans. Many of the opponents said they liked the concept of kelp farming as an emerging sustainable industry but said MacAndrew had selected the wrong location.
Peter August, chairman of Napatree Science Advisors for The Watch Hill Conservancy, said equipment from the kelp farm would be swept onto the Napatree beach during hurricanes or ripped from its moorings posing a navigational hazard.
During the November-April kelp growing season, the farm would be marked with black and white buoys. All farm equipment but four small buoys, marking the corners of the farm area, would be removed at the end of April. August and others said the farm would destroy views of the area.
"It will be an eyesore that everyone can see and not just at Napatree but from the historic Watch Hill Lighthouse as well. The proposed 10-acre kelp farm will ruin the iconic view so central in the positive impressions of visitors to Westerly," said August, who is also a professor of natural resources science at University of Rhode Island.
If approved by the state Coastal Resources Management Council, the agency MacAndrew has applied to for a permit, the farm would violate a conservation easement the Watch Hill Conservancy holds, August asserted.
Jocelyn Lahey, executive director of the Watch Hill Conservancy, read a resolution she said was approved unanimously by the organizations board of directors in opposition to MacAndrew's plans.
Lisa Konicki, president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, said member businesses, mostly from the fishing and hospitality industries, had raised concerns about MacAndrew's plan. She asked the Town Council to consider other areas for a kelp farm, saying the endeavor would be a positive part of the town's commerce if located in a good spot.
"This is a time to be thoughtful about aquaculture. If there is a place for it we should want it it. It's green and it's good ... we should be looking at creating the language to encourage this business somewhere in the town.
MacAndrew said the location he chose is one of few in the region that would be viable for a kelp farm. Regarding concerns that he might expand the farm in the future, he said he would be limited to the proposed area because of an underwater cable that runs adjacent to the proposed farm area. A seasoned fishermen, he also questioned whether the area is a productive one for commercial fishermen.
"I wish people would go online, I wish they would read the application for all the specifics ... if you go to the preliminary determination outcome ... there were really no findings or objections," MacAndrew said.
Several members of the Town Council thanked MacAndrew for his service to the town, which includes being a member on the Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Committee, but said they could not support his plans due to the proposed location.
Council President Christopher Duhamel said MacAndrew plans reminded him of his own efforts to establish a wind farm in the town. "We couldn't find the right location," Duhamel said.
Duhamel and Councilors Sharon Ahern, William Aiello, Karen Cioffi, Caswell Cooke Jr. and Suzanne Giorno voted to have a letter drafted announcing the council's opposition to the project to CRMC. Councilor Brian McCuin was absent.
CRMC announced on May 17 that those interested can submit a request for a hearing on MacAndrew's proposal until June 17. Anyone wishing to protest the proposal would be required to attend the hearing and give sworn testimony.