Aquaculture farm ok'd
Chris Warfel, president of Sun Farm Oysters, won his bid to create an aquaculture oyster farm in a small area of Great Salt Pond. The ruling was made by the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on Tuesday, despite objections being filed by several organizations, including the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Block Island Shellfish Commission.
Warfel, who is also a town councilor, was granted a one-year lease and will seed the one-quarter acre site located on the east side of the pond, just north of the Block Island Club, by Memorial Day. The oysters will be submerged on a long line in mesh bags. The only visible markings on the pond will be four buoys — one at each corner to delineate the 100-foot by 100-foot aquaculture space.
“The area was picked because for many years I observed no activity in that area,” Warfel told the CRMC on Tuesday.
Warfel plans on utilizing the Great Salt Pond farm during the summer months and as part of the agreement will relinquish a lease on an open ocean site at Bean Point. He told the council Tuesday that he has had vandalism issues at the ocean aquaculture farm and he often finds his bags cut or moved.
Warfel filed a CRMC application for the new aquaculture site last June, but the project was discussed before local boards prior to that. Although written objections were filed by DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, the Block Island Shellfish Commission, the Block Island Club, and the Najmy family, which has a summer home on Corn Neck Road, none of the objectors appeared at a public hearing held in Providence on Tuesday.
The main objection centered on the farm’s effect on recreational use of the pond. The site is inside an area of the pond that the town’s Harbor Management Plan set aside for recreational use, which stretches up to Andy’s Way and the clam flats.
The Block Island Shellfish Commission noted in a July 11 letter that the area is used for sailing, swimming, kayaking and kite-boarding and is only 500 feet from the Block Island Club, where children learn these skills. Block Island Club president Alicia Hammarskjold said in another letter of opposition that during the summer 24 sailboats are launched in that area three times a day for children’s sailing lessons.
The commission also was concerned that the approval of the application “would set a precedent and would likely lead to other aquaculturists requesting leases within the recreation area.”
Another issued raised was that the aquaculture farm could be located in Cormorant Cove, an area already designated in the Harbor Management Plan for aquaculture sites.
Warfel told the CRMC that when he first filed the application the town did not have a lease in Cormorant Cove and that seasonal closures of the cove for permit counts makes the site less than desirable.
In its opposition letter, the Shellfish Commission also argued that a private lease on Great Salt Pond would have a “profound, irreversible effect” on shellfish replenishment programs. The board outlined these arguments in a letter sent to the Town Council and asked that the council reconsider its support of the farm. Despite the opposition, the Town Council voted 3-to-2 to support Warfel’s application. The town Conservation Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also submitted favorable comments about the aquaculture farm.
CRMC board member Ronald Gagnon, who is Chief of DEM’s Office of Technical and Customer Assistance, said Tuesday that his agency’s objections were mostly to show support of the Block Island Shellfish Commission’s stance on the project.
He was the lone vote against approving Warfel’s application.
The aquaculture lease was approved with several stipulations noted in the file, including that the lease is for use only between May 15 and Oct. 15. Warfel plans to use a skiff to harvest the oysters and said that the site could ultimately produce 150,000 bivalves, although he doesn’t believe he will be raising that many. The aquaculture farm will supply oysters to restaurants and customers on Block Island.
Warfel said Wednesday that he was pleased with the CRMC’s decision to allow the lease and that operations during the first season will define how effective the pond location will be. “There is a gray area from concerns raised,” he said. “Really only time will tell. I don’t want a lease that will be a problem.”