Rhode Island BHA Calls for Denial of Aquaculture Proposal

If allowed, an oyster farm in Sapowet Cove would become the closest that CRMC has EVER allowed an aquaculture development to be permitted to any existing state public-access feature.

Over two years ago Rhode Island BHA submitted testimony to Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) detailing our concerns with Application 2020-04-037, which seeks to establish an oyster farm in wading-depth water adjacent to Tiverton’s Sapowet Marsh Wildlife Management Area. This Tuesday, November 14th, the Council is scheduled to consider the application for “discussion, review, action or referral to the hearing officer”.

While the lease has morphed through several versions, and it is not exactly clear in the Council Packet which of these iterations will be considered, very little has changed within the terms of the application over the last two years and neither of the points of opposition raised by BHA have been addressed by the applicants:

To date, no analysis has been provided to demonstrate what, if any, affect the proposed activities will have on migratory waterfowl, which frequent the area during winter months both within the adjacent WMA and in Sapowet Cove. Part of the application process for an aquaculture lease requires that applicants “demonstrate that the alteration or activity will not result in significant impacts on the abundance and diversity of plant and animal life” (Sec. 1.3.1 A 5). According to RI General Laws § 20-10-5 the procedures for approving aquaculture leases also involves determining “whether the aquaculture activities proposed… are likely to cause an adverse effect on marine life adjacent to the area…”.  While wildlife impacts are typically only considered as it relates to marine fisheries, Sapowet Cove is also regularly used by marine waterfowl that are listed as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” in RI’s Wildlife Action Plan, such as Atlantic Brant, and impact to their use of the area should be understood by CRMC when the application is considered.

Two years ago, BHA asserted that Sapowet Marsh WMA provided some of the best public access to coastal waters anywhere along the Sakonnet River’s twelve mile length, especially for those interested in hunting waterfowl, and that characteristic warranted protection from development in such close proximity. Of the eight existing coastal access facilities on the river (which is a large tidal body) Sapowet Marsh WMA is the only one that has reliable, free parking and provides access to an expansive, minimally developed natural landscape that ranged from tidal marshes to open coastal waters.

Since we last weighed in Rhode Island BHA has researched existing aquaculture leases and public shoreline access facilities such as rights-of-ways, boat launches and fishing access facilities (mapped through CRMC’s Aquaculture Lease Map, CRMC’s Rights-of-Way Map, and DEM’s Outdoor Recreation Map) to determine whether the lease proposed in 2020-04-037 was consistent with the general relationship between existing public access and aquaculture development elsewhere in the state. Unequivocally, we learned that placing a lease in wading-depth water within 500 feet of an existing public access facility would be highly abnormal, compared to what CRMC has allowed elsewhere in Rhode Island. While there are three instances of leases being placed within 1,000 feet of existing public access, the nature of both the leases and the public access points are not comparable to the Sapowet proposal (for example, two of the access points are ROW’s with minimal or no parking, and the third is a boat ramp designed to launch large vessels headed offshore with a lease on the opposite side of a deep channel), and they are several hundred feet further than 2020-04-037 proposes.

Prior to Tuesday’s semi-monthly CRMC meeting, Rhode Island BHA submitted testimony re-iterating  our concerns with application 2020-04-037.

Read Rhode Island BHA’s Testimony Opposing 2020-04-037

You can weigh in too by sending an email to [email protected]. Be sure to include a clear request and application number (oppose/reject application 2020-04-037 – Sapowet Cove Oyster Farm).

About Chris Borgatti

BHA Eastern Policy & Conservation Manager

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