2014-01-02 / Front Page

Mussel farm approved

By Margo Sullivan

A new aquaculture farm recently won approval from the state Coastal Resources Management Council, the harbor commissioners learned at their December meeting.

Adam Silkes plans to build a longline blue mussel farm off Jamestown’s west shore. The farm will encompass 8.25 acres, according to the CRMC.

The coastal council approved the application at its Nov. 26 meeting, and the deadline for filing a Superior Court complaint about the decision is Jan. 3.

“It’s very interesting the CRMC decided to allow Silkes to do aquaculture here, and he’s doing mussels,” said Harbor Chairman Michael de Angeli.

According to Dave Beutel, the state’s aquaculture coordinator, 98 percent of Rhode Island aquaculture farmers grow oysters. The next largest crops are littleneck clams and quahogs. Beutel gave the commissioners the statistics about aquaculture at the Harbor Commission’s Dec. 11 meeting.

The town does not have any jurisdiction over aquaculture farms, but the harbor commissioners want to stay current with the developments so they can notify the state if there are any potential problems.

The applicant is the son of Bill Silkes, owner of American Mussel Harvesters. The proposal included site adjustments to avoid eelgrass beds. Silkes worked with Save The Bay, Harbormaster Sam Paterson and local commercial fishermen to satisfy their concerns.

“Adam has worked hard with the fishing industry to satisfy their concerns, and to find a location with minimal user conflicts,” said Beutel. “These are native and grow everywhere, but the most efficient method of harvest is to grow them.”

According to the state, Silkes’ farm will employ a series of longlines anchored at each end to suspend the mussel ropes in the water. The CRMC says the area is deep enough so the lines won’t touch the bottom. The lines will be suspended 6 feet below the surface so navigation by watercraft won’t be a problem.

The overall site at the mouth of Dutch Harbor is about 2,400 feet long by 450 feet wide. The lines will be in three groups of four wide, each 600 feet long, with a 200-foot separation between each series.

In other business, the harbor commissioners have granted Newport resident Kimberly Harpool’s appeal to keep her mooring space. Harpool contacted the harbor office on Oct. 8 to make payment arrangements and learned the space had been forfeited because she missed the Oct. 1 final renewal deadline.

Two other mooring holders lost their spaces Oct. 1 because they failed to pay on time. They have not appealed.

“I hate to see people lose moorings,” de Angeli said.

Harpool explained the circumstances and promised to pay the fee and fines immediately.

In her appeal, Harpool apologized for missing the deadlines and explained she faced some financial challenges this past summer after being laid off.

The mooring is “most important to me,” she wrote in her appeal. “I waited eight long years on the list and I keep my boat on it every summer.”

Harpool said she would do “whatever is necessary” to keep the mooring. She had tried to pay the fee online at the beginning of the season, but had been unable to renew her permit because the mooring was due for an inspection.

“I couldn’t get it inspected,” she said. Ultimately, Harpool managed to schedule the inspection successfully.

Paterson sent Harpool a letter dated Sept. 4. His letter indicated the renewal and application had been due May 15 and the $100 monthly fines started because the permit was not renewed by June 15. Harpool said she was aware of the $100 late fee but did not realize the harbor office continued to apply an additional $100 charge for every month the permit renewal was late.

“I did not receive any bills or notifications of the late fees,” she wrote. “While I was aware of the first late fee, I had no knowledge that an addition $100 was added each month. Had I been made aware of them, I would have tried to borrow the money for the mooring fee.”

She found out how much she owed when she called the harbor office in October. Harbor Clerk Kimberly Devlin explained the only recourse would be to appear before the Harbor Commission and appeal.

“These fees are extreme and I would also like a portion of them to be waived because I was not notified of them,” she wrote.

The commissioners stood by the fees, however, as a way to deter people from failing to renew their mooring permits.

“Are you going to pay it off now?” de Angeli asked.

“Yes, I am,” Harpool replied.

At that point, de Angeli took a poll of the commissioners to find out if anyone would object to granting the appeal, contingent on the payment being made.

“If she pays the fee,” he said, “let’s allow that to happen.”

The other commissioners agreed.

Police Chief Ed Mello asked the panel to include a deadline in their motion so Harpool would have to forfeit the mooring if she did not pay by the specified date.

Commissioner David Cain made the motion to grant the appeal provided the permit renewal fee and late fines were paid by Dec. 15.

“I’ll pay it tonight,” she said.

Harpool asked if she would be responsible for the December $100 late fee.

The commissioners voted unanimously to grant the appeal. They also waived the $100 fee for the month of December. After the meeting was adjourned, the harbor clerk accepted Harpool’s payment in full.

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