A sign directs visitors to a parking area at a town landing on Hildreth Road. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)
A proposal by the Harpswell Marine Resources Committee to grow quahog seed in Ewing Narrows is encountering resistance from residents of the Hildreth Road neighborhood.
Four neighbors have hired a lawyer to represent them in the matter. During meetings with the Marine Resources Committee and the Board of Selectmen, the attorney and neighbors expressed concern about parking at the Hildreth Road town landing, among other issues.
Harpswell Harbor Master and Marine Resources Administrator Paul Plummer explained the project to the Board of Selectmen on May 12.
The Marine Resources Committee spreads quahog seed on the clam flats to increase their productivity. In the past, harvesters have spread 1-millimeter seed from a hatchery. To reduce the seed’s susceptibility to predators, they want to grow it to 8-12 millimeters before they spread it.
To grow quahog seed, the committee needs a limited-purpose aquaculture license from the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
The project would consist of a half-dozen OysterGro cages, each 4.5 feet long by 3 feet wide. Inside the cages, mesh bags would hold the seed, according to the license application. A mooring would secure the cages at one end, an anchor at the other.
The entire setup would measure about 50 feet long by 4 feet wide. During the winter, the harvesters would sink the cages to the bottom of the channel.
The site is near the Hildreth Road landing, where harvesters would tend the cages once or twice a week. The property consists of a gravel driveway to a beach and boat launch.
At the April 26 meeting of the Marine Resources Committee, two Hildreth Road property owners and a relative of a third asked questions and voiced concerns about the application. Property owner Sue Daignault was the most outspoken.
“I don’t know the details of the project and I admit wholeheartedly, my attitude is ‘not in my backyard,'” Daignault said. She asked about the project’s impact on recreational boaters and fishermen, as well as swimmers.
Plummer compared the project’s impact on navigation to that of a large sailboat moored on both ends. “It would actually be smaller in width,” he said.
Marine Resources Committee member Robert Boyce Jr. said the project would be small in comparison to commercial aquaculture leases around Harpswell. Several in the area have 100 cages, he said, whereas the committee only wants six.
Most comments from property owners centered on the use of the landing.
“I’ve seen five, six, seven vehicles on that (driveway), to the point that I can’t even get down there to launch my boat because vehicles are in the way,” Daignault said. “It’s tight. The dirt road is not always in great shape. It gets washed out. And this is just going to cause more commotion.”
Daignault accused clammers of littering on her dock and shoreline. She said that a clammer untied her kayak to dig underneath it and the tide carried it 3 miles out into Harpswell Sound.
She complained about clammers asking for permission to park in her driveway and using profanity on the flats. “I’m up there with visitors, bunch of kids in the yard, and I’m hearing F-bombs left and right,” she said.
Boyce told Daignault that he has been digging clams for 30 years. When he started, there were problems with theft and other issues. But today’s clammers prioritize their responsibility to the community and environment.
Harvesters “do everything we can to make property owners happy,” Boyce said. “And we still get blamed for every little thing that happens on the shore. … It isn’t really fair, because it has nothing to do with us.”
David Wilson, chair of the Marine Resources Committee, said that harvesters organize regular trash pickups on the flats. “Every year, we pick up literally tons and tons of trash,” he said.
Daignault ultimately said she would support whatever the committee decided. “I will be on the side of trying to help you be successful and I will voice my opinion if there is something wrong, but I hope I do that respectfully and carefully,” she said.
“I still don’t want it there, but I bless you. I hope you have a good time and get what you need,” she added later.
Wilson asked the neighbors to give the project a chance.
“The permit’s only good for a year. We respect you guys’ considerations, and may I just ask, let us run this this summer, and if there’s issues, we’ll find somewhere else to do it,” Wilson said.
The committee approved the application 5-0. On May 12, the select board approved it 3-0. After the select board’s vote, attorney Jennifer Davis said she would file an objection with the Department of Marine Resources.
“I think everyone can agree this project serves a good purpose, but they’re very concerned about where it is and how it affects their properties,” Davis said of her clients. She represents Nia Foderingham and Charlton Shackleton, who own one property near the landing; and Katharin Blackerby and Jordan Burke, who own another.
Shackleton expressed concern about people parking on his property and “loitering” at the landing. He said there is a “larger problem” at the landing, but the aquaculture application spurred the neighbors to action.
Selectman Jane Covey told Shackleton that the project will add “very little activity” to the landing. She said the Marine Resources Committee has agreed to hear feedback from the neighborhood at its monthly meetings.
“From my point of view, you’re absolutely right — there may well be a bigger issue that should be addressed,” Covey said. “I separate that, in my mind, from this particular project.”
The Department of Marine Resources will review the application and the neighbors’ concerns, according to Plummer. He expects a decision around mid-June. If the department approves the license, the committee will deploy the cages soon thereafter.
A grant from the Broad Reach Fund supports the Harpswell Anchor’s reporting on the working waterfront.