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Jan 1, 2018 2:51 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Amagansett Yacht Club Sues County Over Shellfish Farms Off Its Shores

Jan 2, 2018 3:39 PM

The Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett has filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County over the leasing of portions of Gardiners Bay to shellfish growers, with the club claiming that the shellfish farms will interfere with its traditional sailing activities.

The lawsuit claims that the county failed to consider the impact that shellfish growing—known as aquaculture, or mariculture—in the region would have on recreational activities like sailing, and that a half dozen new leases awarded to would-be shellfish farmers last summer should be annulled.

Attorneys for the club will ask a state judge on Wednesday, January 4, to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the holders of leases in the area near the club—none involved in the lawsuit is an East Hampton Town resident—from starting new operations, and barring the county from issuing any new leases until the legal challenge is settled.

The county has mapped out more than 20 lease areas in the corner of Gardiners Bay known as Napeague Bay, lying between Abrams Landing, where the Devon Yacht Club is, and Lazy Point. Each lease site comprises 10 acres of bay bottom and is surrounded by a buffer area that makes the total area linked to each lease 20 acres.

Just two of the sites are already actively in use and are not challenged by the lawsuit. One is leased by Multi Aquaculture Systems, the owners of the “fish farm” on Cranberry Hole Road, and has been in use since 2013. The other is leased by Promised Land Mariculture Company and was first actively used in 2017.

It was the appearance of the newest lease operation, which sits a little over 1,000 feet offshore of the Devon Yacht Club, that brought the county program to the club’s attention, said Linda Margolin, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the yacht club.

The attorney said that each site is marked with perimeter buoys and a number of buoys connected to the shellfish growing cages, which make sailing through the lease areas very difficult and hazardous, if not impossible, for the approximately 70 sailboats based at the 101-year-old yacht club.

“Devon supports aquaculture projects—they make an annual contribution to the shellfish hatchery in Montauk,” Ms. Margolin said. “But these particular lease sites are so intrusive that if they were built out, there ultimately would be at least 200 acres smack in the middle of the area where their junior sailors can sail. That’s a big swath.”

The county’s aquaculture lease program was created in 2008 as a way to help baymen earn profits in the face of decimated wild shellfish stocks around the region. The program created hundreds of lease areas, mostly in Great Peconic Bay, Little Peconic Bay and Noyac Bay. Applicants must show that they are qualified to create and run a responsible growing operation, and all applications are reviewed and awarded by a county advisory committee.

Thus far, only about 50 of the sites have been leased, and only a few dozen are actively being worked. No single individual or entity may hold more than one lease.

The 21 plots in Napeague Bay are the only lease sites in East Hampton Town waters. In addition to the two active aquaculture operations in place, six more leases were awarded last summer and are not yet active, and another three lease applications are pending before the county.

The aquaculture growers mainly raise oysters from tiny “spat,” just a few millimeters across, to marketable 3-inch oysters. Each “farm” employs a system of wire cages filled with the seedling oysters, suspended from floats and anchored to the bay bottom.

In warm months, the cages hang just a foot or two below the water’s surface. In winter, they are lowered to the bottom, where water temperatures are warmer. It takes about 18 months for an oyster to grow to marketable size in the cages.

Bob Valenti, who owns one of the two active lease areas, says that he produces about 400,000 marketable oysters per year from his lease plot. Late last week, he scoffed at the yacht club’s legal challenge.

“Devon Yacht Club is off their rocker,” he said. “To think that they have riparian rights in the middle of the bay because they’ve been on the shore for all these years is crazy. But that is their quest.”

Ms. Margolin said that the club actually is only raising issue with the process by which the county reviewed the siting of the leases, which failed to meet the demands of state review guidelines for considering potential impacts on other user groups.

“These lease sites substantially interfere with the area where Devon has been conducting its sailing programs for close to a century,” Ms. Margolin said. “We think the procedure the lease board used to approve these lease sites was flawed. It didn’t conform to the county’s own rules. We don’t know if they did any environmental review, but we do know they didn’t do an appropriate review. They are supposed to consider recreational users.”

Ms. Margolin said that the yacht club had wished to avoid a lawsuit and preferred to negotiate with the county and the lease holders but was forced to file the suit by legal limitations on challenging the latest leases awarded by the county on July 26.

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Jeez, just sail arounf the markers! There's food and commerce working here!

By Frank Wheeler (1798), Northampton on Jan 1, 18 5:30 PM
Those pesky fishermen. Always getting in the way of yachting...

By Draggerman (822), Southampton on Jan 3, 18 7:35 AM