Mashpee Oyster Farm Opponents Elevate Case To Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
By: GEOFF SPILLANE, June 23, 2014
The Popponesset Bay oyster farm dispute is being taken all the way to the state’s highest court.
Mashpee Town Counsel Patrick J. Costello confirmed on Monday, June 23, that 21 waterfront homeowners on Popponesset and Daniels Island have filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
The Mashpee Board of Selectmen and Mashpee Conservation Commission have been named as defendants in the case.
The filing is the latest salvo by the homeowners in a nearly four-year effort to stop local shellfisherman Richard J. Cook from operating a 1.9-acre aquaculture grant in the bay. Four previous decisions by the Barnstable Superior Court and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court have ruled that the Town of Mashpee had jurisdiction to award the aquaculture grant to Mr. Cook.
“This is a last gasp effort on the part of this group to delay the oyster farm,” Mr. Costello said, noting that the town issued its opposition of the appeal to the SJC last Thursday.
According to Mr. Costello, Brian J. Wall, the attorney who represents the homeowners, filed the appeal specifically to seek SJC review on whether the aquaculture grant, which the plaintiffs consider a commercial enterprise, would trigger a mandatory review by the Cape Cod Commission as a development of regional impact.
Last fall, the project received the written support of Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, citing the restoration of the integrity of marine water that results from shellfish aquaculture.
Mr. Costello said that he expects the SJC will make a decision within the next month whether or not it will review the case.
“If the SJC declines further review of the appeal, then that will be the end of the road for the opposition,” he said.
There is also an appeal pending in the Massachusetts Land Court against the Mashpee Zoning Board of Appeals. In that case, in which motions need to be filed by July 19, the homeowners claim that the town’s zoning rules and regulations should extend into Popponesset Bay.
Mr. Wall did not immediately return a call for comment.
The long-simmering battle over the oyster farm made regional news in early May when Massachusetts State Representative Michael A. Costello (D-Newburyport)—and no relation to Mashpee town counsel—filed an amendment to the state budget that would designate the aquaculture grant a “special coastal resource sanctuary.” The amendment only referred to longitude and latitude coordinates, and never mentioned “Mashpee” or “Popponesset Bay.”
The amendment was presented to Rep. Costello by the Boston-based lobbying firm ML Strategies, which confirmed it did so on behalf of Charles Clough, chairman and chief executive officer of Boston-based Clough Capital Partners, a plaintiff in the anti-oyster farm lawsuits who owns a home on Daniels Island Road.
The local legislative delegation of State Representative David T. Vieira (R-Falmouth) and State Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D-Harwich) have vowed that the amendment will be stripped from the final budget when debate is completed later this month.
“I’m not surprised they are appealing to the SJC. They haven’t missed an opportunity to appeal any of the decisions. It’s their method of operation. But it doesn’t deter my plans at all,” Mr. Cook said on June 23.