Letter: Keep our coastal waters open to the public

Posted 6/15/22

I watched the testimony on H8244 and I commend Rep. Edwards for taking a stand and introducing the bill which is an attempt to move any new oyster farm to a location 1,000 feet offshore. Rep. Edwards …

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Letter: Keep our coastal waters open to the public

Posted

I watched the testimony on H8244 and I commend Rep. Edwards for taking a stand and introducing the bill which is an attempt to move any new oyster farm to a location 1,000 feet offshore. Rep. Edwards stressed repeatedly that his bill ONLY addresses that point. However, I do NOT agree that this legislation should only apply to the Sakonnet River estuary, or to Tiverton. I DO agree that any currently leased farms, or those with a lease application in progress, should be grandfathered, as is the usual practice. The coastline and shorelines of all Rhode Island communities are under threat, not just the Sakonnet River and Tiverton.

There is no argument that shellfish filter and clean the water. Nothing does it better. The argument that the aquaculture industry is a big money maker for the state is questionable. The state receives a pittance for leases which can last for decades with automatic renewals. This is a seasonal industry which serves a high end niche market. Employment is both minimal and seasonal.

During his testimony, John Bowen repeatedly stressed his ties to the community and his reverence for the waters. I can’t help but notice that his proposed farm is not in waters adjacent to his home town of Little Compton and that he is not a Tiverton resident. His argument that the resistance to his proposed farm is fueled and funded by wealthy land barons is simply not true. Many of us who desire to maintain and preserve our access to the shore and coastal waters are not wealthy, nor are we landowners on the Sakonnet River. Many of us live in Tiverton full time.

Our intent is not to prevent aquaculture and oyster farms entirely. The proposed legislation simply moves them well offshore so the public access is neither impaired or impeded. I learned at a Tiverton Harbor Commission meeting with CRMC officials that the public MAY NOT take oysters and shellfish from under, or near, any aquaculture lease. This would prevent the public from taking shellfish from traditional areas as is currently permitted by law.

I believe that the CRMC and SAMP are both heavily and unduly influenced by the industry and that the public interest receives scant attention. There may well be both national and state regulations that say that aquaculture is important and necessary. They do not, however, state that the public interest is to be ignored or should take a back seat. In fact, public access is enshrined in our state constitution as a right which may not be denied. H8244 is an important and positive step, but it must not be diluted by applying only to Tiverton.

Jay P. Edwards

Mr. Edwards is a member of the Tiverton Town Council.

 

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