Several hundred people, including many Westporters, turned out an Army Corps of Engineers hearing in Milford Wednesday night to voice opposition to a Westport doctors application to harvest oysters off of Westport and Milford using suspended cages.
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Westport First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell were among those opposing the plan by Dr. John Garofalo and his Mariculture Unlimited LLC.
It calls for raising Eastern oysters over 522 acres of Long Island Sound off the Milford and Westport coastlines using cages suspended 10 feet below the surface.
Blumenthal said the shellfish industry was important to ConnecticutҒs economy but that the proposed oyster farm locations were not the right places.
As the saying goes, location, location, location, but I believe there is a better alternative,Ӕ he said. The state official pledged to work with the applicant, state environmental experts, and towns bordering Long Island Sound to find that alternative.
Farrell said she had met with many of the interested parties in the controversy and also said she would work to find a solution. I ask you to consider denying this without prejudice,Ӕ she said.
Westports Conservation Department director, Alicia Mozian, said it is not that she and Westport do not support aquaculture. ғIt is the wave of the future, she said.
But she added that the Corps and state lawmakers must come up with a master plan for Long Island Sound first. ԓYou need to look at the larger picture and do it now, not later, Mozian said.
Garofalo opened the hearing with a brief presentation in support of his application. He said the system was not risky and had been successfully done elsewhere. Concerns about safety and interference with sailing in the areas were exaggerated, he said.
Ending his slide show with a picture of his daughter water skiing, Garofalo said he had great respect for the waters of Long Island Sound as a 20-year resident of Connecticut.
More than 80 people signed up to speak at the hearing, including a parade of speakers from WestportԒs yacht clubs. They pointed to the widespread use of the proposed oyster farm area by sailboats and recreational boaters for more than 100 years and said there was no reasonable alternate location for their activities.
Lee Weiner of the Minuteman Yacht Club said he questioned the seriousness of GarofaloҒs application because the number of buoys and lines involved seemed to be constantly changing.
John Gillespie of the Keep Westports Waterways Open group said Mariculture UnlimitedҒs application was smack in the middle of WestportӒs Main Street for boating.
He said he had great concerns about the health impact of a high mortality rate of oysters that would result from the operation. ԓThe state needs to develop a long-range plan to accommodate all interests, Gillespie said.
If the application were granted, said Martin Levin of the Milford Yacht Club, ԓthis is an accident waiting to happen.
One of the few speakers to support the oyster plan was a Milford aquaculture consultant, Edwin Rhodes. He said he had spoken to 10 people involved in similar suspended cable ventures and none had reported any problems with recreational boaters.
ԓWhen damage does occur, he said, ԓit is usually to the shellfish operation and not to boats.
Robert Byrne, acting deputy district engineer for the Corps, said the agency would continue to accept public comment on the application until Aug. 2. There was no indication when it might issue a final ruling.
Representatives of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, which will also have input into the decision, also attended the hearing. It lasted almost three and a half hours.
Westport Town Attorney Ira Bloom, who was also present but did not speak, told WestportNow the town was prepared to initiate legal action if the application were approved.