The Tiverton Town Council last week approved a resolution urging the General Assembly to pass legislation that would restrict any new aquaculture leases on the Sakonnet River to at least 1,000 feet …
The Tiverton Town Council last week approved a resolution urging the General Assembly to pass legislation that would restrict any new aquaculture leases on the Sakonnet River to at least 1,000 feet from the median high tide line — the same legislation Little Compton councilors unanimously rejected in their own resolution last month.
Prior to voting last Monday evening, Tiverton councilors heard from Patrick Bowen of Little Compton, who along with his brother Sean applied for a lease three years ago to establish a .97-acre oyster farm near Seapowet Point. The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has yet to take final action on the application, and the proposed state legislation, if approved, would block the Bowen brothers’ plans.
“I’m here this evening to urge this council to oppose this capricious and arbitrary proposal," Bowen said. "This resolution is bad for Tiverton and it’s bad for Rhode Island."
Bwen said the legislation, if approved, would favor large industrial operations at the expense of small farms and reduce what he calls the beneficial environmental impact of oyster farms. He outlined the application process he and his brother followed, saying they have received approvals from numerous state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as the Tiverton Harbor Commission.
“This is an attempt by the Town of Tiverton through the state legislature to usurp the authority of the Rhode Island CRMC and to impose unreasonable restrictions on state-owned waters.”
Following Bowen’s statement, council vice president Mike Burk asked him about his plans for a small strip of land he owns in Tiverton south of the Seapowet Bridge, just off the proposed lease area. Bowen responded he would be “using it for all lawful purposes.”
Burk, rephrased the question. “What do you plan on doing with that strip of land in relation to your oyster farm if it was approved?”
Bowen said he has a mooring in the area, and so he could park a car on the land and access the mooring.
“So you plan on landing the oysters there?” Burk asked.
“That’s a possibility,” said Bowen, who then added, “What we are talking about this evening is a resolution for the entirety of the Sakonnet River.”
Many Tiverton residents, particularly those living in the Seapowet area, strongly oppose the Bowens’ plans. The council’s resolution acknowledges the opposition by referencing public hearings where many have spoken against commercial aquaculture farms in Tiverton’s coastal waters. The resolution cites the council’s belief that passage of the legislation is “in the best interests of the residents of the Town and will protect its scenic vistas and preserve the use of the Sakonnet River for recreational purposes.”
Councilors at odds
Last month, the Little Compton Town Council adopted a resolution opposing the state legislation. The action did not sit well with at least two Tiverton councilors.
“Quite frankly, I don’t care what Little Compton thinks,” said council member John Edwards. “They will be operating a farm ... between two residential properties and there will be nothing the Town of Tiverton can do to stop it.”
Burk also spoke against Little Compton’s stance.
“I don’t know, at least not in the short time I’ve been on the council, that we have ever passed a resolution that affected a neighboring town ... I want to be on the record that I don’t appreciate the actions taken by the Little Compton Town Council.”
The proposed legislation, H-5037, was introduced by Rep. John G. “Jay” Edwards (D-Dist. 70 – Tiverton and Portsmouth), Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Middletown and Newport) and Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Middletown and Portsmouth). Sen. Louis DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) is expected to submit S-198, a companion bill, to the State Senate.