Oyster Aquaculture Plan Shakes Up Watermen and Landowners

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Kent County Commissioners on Tuesday hosted a Public Information Meeting (PIM) in regard to a Department of Natural Resources application for an oyster aquaculture farm permit on the Chester River made by Chestertown resident Scott Budden.

The packed forum was held so that commissioners could hear from residents opposed to the proposal, and decide whether to continue their previously written support of the project to the DNR.

The DNR was not present at the meeting.

Oyster cages similar to these would be used in Scott Budden's oyster aquaculture farm.

Oyster cages similar to these could be used in Scott Budden’s oyster aquaculture farm.

In a letter written to Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian, dated January 26— after considering a protest by a local waterman —Thomas J. O’Connell, Director of Fisheries, at the Department of Natural Resources, stated “I am confident that Mr. Budden’s shellfish lease will help to expand oyster production, create habitat and increase and biodiversity in this area while providing for increased economic growth opportunities in Kent County.”

Commissioner Fithian began the informational meeting by reminding everyone that county commissioners are not a deciding legislative body for state decisions. ”We as county commissioners don’t actually have a say whether or not this project is licensed, approved or not.” He added that the Kent County public information meeting was offered to give Kent County residents a forum to discuss Budden’s proposal.

“The one issue I have is that early on in hopes of presenting different discussions on this I called personally and asked if the DNR could have a public hearing in Kent County so that they, the decision makers, would have the ability to hear what anyone thinks about it. I was told it was advertised in Queen Anne’s County and that’s where it was going to be held.”

During the Queen Anne’s public notice period of the project in April, 2014, the DNR received a petition of protest from Wayne Wilson, a Kent County Waterman citing “concerns over impacts to recreational and commercial crabbing and fishing” and requested a public information meeting, which was held in Centreville on October 16, 2014.

Scott Budden presented the meeting with a PowerPoint review of his 3.9-acre oyster aquaculture plan sited near Church Creek. The area lease was marked by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and he noted that all aquaculture techniques and equipment have been approved by the DNR. Budden’s business plan calls for use of on-bottom cages to enhance oyster survivability, a technique already in use by aquaculture farmers on Eastern Shore Rivers. The cages would be submerged in an average of 5 ft. of water.

Budden cited benefits to aquaculture, including sustainability, providing nutrient removal and helping water quality and provide structure and habitat for marine life. He said his project has been endorsed by the Chester River Association as a way to improve water quality, and that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Oyster Recovery Project support oyster farms statewide.

Budden also stated his business plan included a proposed educational outreach through volunteering in the public school system similar to programs already underway in Dorchester County.

The presentation was followed with both support and criticism. Support for the project addressed the need for aquaculture to promote and amplify the oyster industry similar to Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture in Dorchester County, embrace and encourage the vision of young entrepreneurs in Kent County, the positive economic impact of the project, and the environmental benefits of aquaculture.

“I know Scott and I think he has a great plan here and I would like to see a more collaborative effort between the waterman and the Scott Budden. I think we’d be making a mistake if we don’t do something like this,” Ken Noble said.

Sassafras Riverkeeper Emmet Duke said, “When we work together we get things done. This young man wants to improve the environment with his project. He has my full and complete support.”

Other supporters included Chester Riverkeeper Isabel Hardesty, former Chester Riverkeeper David Foster, former Chestertown Mayor Margo Bailey and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum Education Director Kate Livie. Each one spoke to encourage Kent County youth to continue to live and work in Kent County and to promote positive economic growth and environmental enhancements.

Criticism of the project was expressed by landowners who own property adjacent to the aquaculture project and waterman who felt that the submerged cages would foul trot lines and impact fishing.

Kitty Hobbs owner of the property adjacent to the lease area —Napley Green Farm—said that she’d only heard about the project a few days ago. “Don’t property owners have any rights?” she asked. Hobbs also questioned the impact oysters would have on the crab population, the effect aquaculture would have on property values and the affect the business would have on wildlife on her property. “What’s going to happen to all our birds that we’ve been cultivating for the last 75 years,” referring to the pressure washing of the oysters. Family members, George Hobbs, Samuel and Attorney Phil Hoon also spoke out against the proposal.

“Napley Green Farm is one of the most treasured duck hunting locations on the Eastern Shore. Our family has been behind conservation for generations. When you start imposing noise and disruption to that environment, it actually decreases the viability for those ducks. We rely on that income,” George Hobbs said.

Andrew Bradley, a 20-year leaseholder of the property, stated “it gives me concern about how the process has been handled…I don’t think it’s legal,” saying that he believed the State did not have the right or the power to impose business operations on riparian landowners, to choose one business while threatening another, and that the DNR did not take into consideration how property values might be impacted. He also stated that he was concerned with wildlife habitat and hunting degradation. Napley Green Farm is popular duck hunting area.

The Hobbs’ also said that they had not been contacted by Budden. Although law requires the DNR to contact adjacent landowners for a project like this, Budden is not required by law since the oyster farm is beyond private property riparian boundaries.

Several watermen also challenged the aquaculture project, including Wayne Wilson who filed the original protest with the DNR, Brian Nesspor, and Chuckie White, who suggested that the lease site be moved to another location to keep the trotlines safe from overlapping with the oyster cages.

“If he put the oysters on the bottom, there wouldn’t be a problem, but he said that wasn’t in his business plan,” Wayne Wilson said. He added that he suggested that Budden move the location toward Eastern Neck Island but to use the location currently selected would foul crabber’s trotlines. “We’re not against aquaculture, we’re against the cages,” he said.

The watermen also expressed concern that allowing aquaculture in this location would set a precedent for more and further impede their already diminished livelihood.

County Commissioners will accept written comments through January 30, and then consider supporting the project.

DNR protocols for Budden to relocate the site of his aquaculture project would require him to begin the application process anew. Commissioner Ron Fithian said that he’d like to look into having that part of the DNR process changed so that Budden would not lose additional time in getting the aquaculture business underway.

If protests continue, an independent judge may have to hold a hearing as per the protocols of the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

 

Letters to Editor

  1. Pete Buxtun says:

    I think there is a serious point that everyone complaining about the location of the lease is missing. A blind situated on the water (like ones the Napley Green uses) is leased from the State (meaning the public). It is not “your” hunting area, it’s an area that absentee landholders (duPonts) from DE lease to make some money. This isn’t inherently a problem, though I find it hard to believe that a 4 acre aquaculture lease is going to damage the hunting business on a 1296 acre property. Mr. Budden is attempting to lease public property. Napley Green is mad that their public lease could be infringed on. Watermen are mad that the lease could restrict their access to a public fishery. No ones property rights are being infringed upon here. We have over 73 square MILES in the Chester river that is public property, I think there is enough room for everyone. I wish Mr. Budden all the best in his endeavors.

  2. Dan Menefee says:

    The oyster population north of the Bay Bridge is virtually non-existent, not one working oyster boat, and people have clamored for decades for someone to do SOMETHING. For whatever reason one blames the decline, it is beyond absurd that anyone would object to someone trying to grow oysters.

    This could be a good place for school field trips–where kids could be inspired to aquaculture and conservation as a life-long avocation–if not a career. And the watermen could take the long view that this is a step towards improving the overall health of the Chester. This gives back to the river from which they take.

    Budden needs to be given an award.

  3. Skip Middleton says:

    Total rubbish. This is a case of “not in my backyard” by some ignorant viewpoints. This will in no way impact hunting, and ducks, geese and marine recreation and industry have co-habitated for centuries in the shore. This is bringing back the Shore way of life, not hurting it, both educationally and environmentally. If in some way someone is damaged by this enterprising young man, let them show the impact once it’s happened. I’m sure with a cure period in his lease, this would allow this to move forward reasonably.

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