Clock ticking on Sakonnet aquaculture legislation

Edwards revising House bill, while DiPalma said he is ready to submit Senate version

By Ted Hayes
Posted 6/22/22

With the legislative session set to adjourn at the end of the week, the clock is ticking on legislation that would restrict aquaculture along the Sakonnet River, banning new oyster and other …

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Clock ticking on Sakonnet aquaculture legislation

Edwards revising House bill, while DiPalma said he is ready to submit Senate version

Posted

With the legislative session set to adjourn at the end of the week, the clock is ticking on legislation that would restrict aquaculture along the Sakonnet River, banning new oyster and other shellfish farms within 1,000 feet of the mean high tide line.

The House of Representatives is currently reviewing a bill sponsored by Rep. John Edwards of Tiverton, which in its present form would apply to aquaculture operations across the state. He said Monday that he is in the process of amending that original bill to restrict the legislation's reach to the shores of the Sakonnet River only, and hopes to bring it to the floor for a vote later this week.

But "it's going to have to be quick."

On the Senate side, Senator Louis DiPalma said Monday morning that he stands ready to submit a Senate version of the legislation this week, and said he could do that as late as Friday if the House passes the bill in time.

"The goal is to finish by the end of the week," he said. "The bill is still in play as long as we're in session."

Rep. Edwards acknowledged Monday that his bill was submitted very late in the game; just last month. And he acknowledged that the original bill, submitted at the request of the Tiverton Town Council, was "overly broad" in its original form and will need more focus and time to get right.

"I submitted exactly what they gave us," he said. "I knew it would need" to be amended.

As written, the bill would ban aquaculture operations within that 1,000 foot buffer anywhere in the state, but would not affect pre-existing operations or those in the application/approval stage.

But the expected amendments would narrow H8422's focus to the Sakonnet River, exempt only those aquaculture operations that have already been approved by the state, and establish a four- to five-year 'pilot program' along the Sakonnet, to see what affect the bill, if passed into law, has. That pilot program would be overseen by the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC).

If both chambers submit and pass legislation which is then passed by the governor, the amended legislation would kill a plan by Little Compton brothers Patrick and John Bowen, who two years ago submitted an application before the CRMC to establish a small oyster farm just south of the Sapowet Marsh bridge on Seapowet Avenue.

Senator DiPalma said he supports the idea behind the proposed legislation and is ready to submit his own bill, even if it's at the last minute. And while some might refer to the hyper-lcoal focus of the amended House bill as being akin to "spot zoning," he said, he supports it.

"I understand the concerns they've addressed," he said of opponents of the Bowen plan, who have organized and started a website dedicated to fighting the proposed Seapowet farm.

"We have to balance homeowners, residents and others who are using (the Sapowet marsh shoreline) from a recreational perspective, with the rights of the aquaculture" industry.

On Monday, Patrick Bowen said he is disappointed and disheartened to see the legislation moving forward, and like Jay Edwards also used the term "NIMBYism" — "Where's the due process?" he asked, noting that he and his brother's application before the CRMC was filed two years ago and is still under review.

Nevertheless, he said he and his brother will continue to advocate for their plan and their rights under state law, despite the opposition.

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