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Board to take second look at aquaculture leases

KATERINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | An artifact from when Shelter Island was a key player in the oyster industry of the east coast.
KATERINE SCHROEDER PHOTO An artifact from when Shelter Island was a key player in the oyster industry of the east coast.

Members of the Waterways Management Advisory Council (WMAC) were up in arms at the beginning of the month about Suffolk County plans 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.

They asked the Town Board to write a letter objecting to the plan, but a week later, it appears the WMAC members had been given faulty information. Their notice of the planned leases came from the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett, one of a number of yacht clubs to take a stand against the leases. They were told the plans were to lease as many as 850 10-acre sites over a 10-year period. What they and others envisioned was that suface-based floating markers where oyster cultivation was to take place would make it impossible to navigate boats around Shelter Island for many years.

On Tuesday, the Town Board got word from Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program officials that only 60 acres a year scattered throughout Suffolk County waters would be used for oyster cultivation, meaning that if any were located around Shelter Island, it would only be a few.

From the outset earlier in the month, the WMAC said it didn’t object to the idea of cultivating oyster beds, but just wanted to ensure it was done in areas where boating wouldn’t be affected.

Supervisor Gary Gerth said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session that he hadn’t yet seen the draft letter the WMAC was suggesting.

In other actions, the Town Board and WMAC have been debating a proposal from Peter Levensen to make changes to his nonconforming dock in Dering Harbor and a resolution to finally approve it was to appear on the June 15 Town Board agenda. But if it remains on the agenda, how it will fare is in doubt.

Councilmen Jim Colligan and Albert Dickson — both liaisons to the WMAC — oppose the resolution while Councilman Paul Shepherd appeared to favor it.

Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams offered no indication  of what her vote would be and Supervisor Gary Gerth said only that he could understand both sides of the argument.

Although Mr. Levensen 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. Levensen would give up certain requests for  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 such 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. Levinsen’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 as new residents with more money and larger boats are purchasing properties on the Island.