State Calls For Extensive Review Of Popponesset Island Oyster Farm
By: Geoff Spillane
The long simmering and often confrontational dispute and legal battle over a local man’s effort to establish an aquaculture farm off Popponesset Island took an unexpected turn late last month when the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection overruled a decision made by the Mashpee Conservation Commission.
In early July, the conservation commission, despite vehement opposition from nearby residents, voted 4-to-2 to allow local shellfisherman Richard J. Cook Jr. to cultivate a one-acre aquaculture site off Popponesset Island to grow oysters.
A letter from DEP to Mr. Cook in late September states that the project is subject to review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, and that Mr. Cook must file an Environmental Notification Form with the state secretary of energy and environmental affairs within 70 days. The Environmental Notification Form, at 22 pages long, is akin to a full-fledged environmental study.
Mashpee Conservation Agent Andrew R. McManus said this week that the exercise requested by the DEP will be a significant expense for Mr. Cook, but he could potentially appeal the decision.
In an interview earlier this week, Mr. Cook said that he will continue to pursue the aquaculture farm and is evaluating consulting firms to complete the study.
Richard H. York Jr., Mashpee shellfish constable, said he has never heard of the DEP ordering such an extensive environmental review for a shellfish aquaculture license application. “It’s a major, expensive undertaking,” he said.
According to the DEP letter to Mr. Cook, the review is necessary because the project would constitute a “new structure in a velocity zone,” “alteration of 1/2 or more acres of any other wetlands,” and “construction of a bottom-anchored structure of 2,000 or more [square foot] base area in flowed tidelands.”
The review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, akin to what a major property development would produce, would require Mr. Cook to document whether the site includes any rare species, archaeological resources, and other impacts.
The grant in Popponesset Bay was requested earlier this year by Mr. Cook, who has been shellfishing in Mashpee for nearly four decades and has operated an oyster farm, similar to the proposed farm in Popponesset, in Ockway Bay for 28 years.
At the time of commission approval, Mr., McManus cited a variety of evidence from the state Department of Marine Fisheries, the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and DEP that the grant would not have an adverse effect on the environment, as major reasons for the commission’s vote of approval. The abundance of other water-dependent structures, such as docks and floats, currently in use in Popponesset Bay was also a key factor.
“We did what we had to do. The project meets requirements, and there will not be unreasonable interference with swimming, kayaking, and other recreational activities,” Mr. McManus said in July.
The Mashpee Board of Selectmen this summer also voted to support the project.
As of press time, representatives from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the DEP did not respond to interview requests.
Brian J. Wall, an attorney with Sandwich-based Troy Wall Associates, who represents more than 20 homeowners on Popponesset and Daniels islands who have come out against the project, also did not respond to interview requests.
The opponents have pursued a variety of legal and regulatory measures to prevent the project, including challenging the board of selectmen’s decision and asking the Mashpee Zoning Board of Appeals to reconsider the town building inspector’s decision that the oyster cages do not constitute “structures.”
Leslie A. Caffyn, whose $4.15 million home at the tip of Popponesset Island would be next to the aquaculture project, has been a leader in the opposition.