The Freeport Ordinance Committee will begin discussions this week on an amendment to the town’s shellfish ordinance that would clear the way for clam farming on the town’s mud flats.

The meeting on Thursday, Feb. 25, at the Town Hall, begins at 5:30 p.m.

The Shellfish Conservation Commission, following a lengthy study, has recommended a five-year pilot program for aquaculture. The Ordinance Committee, comprising three town councilors, will study the proposal, then perhaps forward its recommendations to the full council.

“We’re just getting started on the aquaculture proposal,” said Sarah Tracy, committee chairwoman. “We’ve referred draft language to (the Department of Marine Resources), and seeking feedback. The council referred the matter to us. I don’t know if we can come up with a recommendation or not.”

The Shellfish Conservation Commission states that the purpose of the municipal shellfish aquaculture permitting program “is to protect and optimize Freeport’s shellfish resources through introduction and support of sustainable aquaculture practices.” Some clam harvesters have said that the effects of predatory green crabs have made clam farming necessary, while other clammers complain that the program would take away public accesss to the flats.

There’s also the matter of legality. Town attorney Philip Saucier has advised that the permitee (the town) “shall be responsible for obtaining any landowner permissions in writing, to the extent required by law.” Saucier recommends that a copy of the written permission be submitted along with the other application materials “which would ensure consistency with the application requirements for a state aquaculture permit.”

Tracy said that compliance with state law is an important factor for the Ordinance Committee to consider.

In the first year of the aquaculture program, no more than five permits would be granted, according to the commission’s proposal. The number would expand to no more than eight permits by the end of the third year, and no more than 10 in the next two years.

The permitted sites would be limited to a 35-acre parcel, out of roughly 880 acres of inter-tidal flats that are available for clamming.

Doug Leland, chairman of the Shellfish Conservation Commission, said that there is no timetable for a decision on the pilot program.

“We see this as a longer-term initiative,” Leland said. “There would be public hearings. I’d defer to the Ordinance Committee in terms of timing.”

The 35 acres proposed for clam farming are near Recompence Shore Campground, owned by Wolfe’s Neck Farm and other landowners. Leland said that the site could be changed if the town sees the need.

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