Featured Story

WMAC warns of shellfishing leases in bays


Members of the Waterways Management Advisory Council (WMAC) are asking the Town Board to send a letter to Suffolk County advising against a proposal to lease acres of water-based land for oyster cultivation because they believe it would close large areas of Peconic and Gardiners bays to navigation.

WMAC members agreed at their Monday night meeting they aren’t objecting to the program — similar to Cornell’s Suffolk Project in Aquaculture Training (SPAT) that restored shellfish to the area.

But the county’s plan calls for potentially leasing as many as 850 10-acre sites with surface-based floating markers and 10-acre “no-go zones” surrounding the oyster cultivation areas, which would make it impossible to navigate boats in many areas surrounding Shelter Island.

An original letter from the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett alerting area yacht clubs to the county’s plan came to WMAC member Marc Wein through the Shelter Island Yacht Club.

Believing that a letter from the Town Board would have more clout than a letter from the WMAC, the council is suggesting that an objection be sent to the county prior to the June 11 deadline for comments.

No WMAC members object to oyster cultivation and the value it has enhancing water quality and boosting the economy of the shellfishing industry, the members said. But to place markers near surface waters in so many places could, over time, make it nearly impossible for boats to navigate in and out of Shelter Island waters.

“Further leasing should not impede navigation inside the Peconic Estuary,” Councilman Jim Colligan wrote in a draft recommendation to the Town Board following Monday night’s meeting.

He called the proposal “very ambitious” and said it “needs a lot of dialogue” before it should be implemented. But he never did ask that the Town Board send a letter to the county.

The Town Board and WMAC have been debating a proposal from Peter Levinson to make changes to his nonconforming dock in Dering Harbor and a resolution to finally approve it will appear on the June 15 Town Board agenda.

The application has consumed a great deal of time and attention with the final resolution still in doubt.

Mr. Colligan and Councilman Albert Dickson — both Town Board liaisons to the WMAC — oppose the resolution while Councilman Paul Shepherd appears to favor it.

Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams had a single question about the application, but offered no indication  of what her vote would be. Supervisor Gary Gerth said only that he could understand both sides of the argument.

Although Mr. Levinson has told both the WMAC and Town Board he has “a lot of chips to trade” if he could receive approval of his plans, WMAC members have split on three votes by close margins, ultimately agreeing that unless Mr. Levinson gives up his request for splashboards and/or dolphins (structures that rise above the waterline not connected to the shore) on the north and west side of the area, they won’t recommend that the Town Board approve the changes.

Mr. Levinsen has been firm in saying that rather than make the changes, he would keep the existing dock arrangement, while arguing his proposal would provide a better layout in the area.

WMAC member Mike Anglin said his only concern was that the changes stay within the footprint of the existing dock and Mr. Levinson’s proposal achieves that.

But some others were firm in saying that the dock was already nonconforming and without a demonstration of hardship or a willingness to give up what they considered sufficient give-backs, they thought they should hold to the code.

John Needham, WMAC chairman, warned the Town Board that he is seeing more applications from people seeking to expand already nonconforming docks since people with more money and larger boats are purchasing properties on the Island.