After months of heated debate and public outcry, the town board voted unanimously at its meeting Tuesday to adopt new legislation regarding aquaculture in Southold.
The vote came after a lengthy public hearing on the draft code at Town Hall earlier this month, during which residents turned out in force last night to speak out on the issue of aquaculture — with some supporting fish farms and other land-based operations, and others adamant that they have no place near residential neighborhoods.
Back in July, the town board voted unanimously to defeat initial draft legislation regarding land-based aquaculture, with an eye toward implementing amendments that would help ease concerns raised by neighbors.
The new draft includes a provision that such operations be sited on parcels that are a minimum of seven acres, with a 200 foot setback from other parcels and 100 feet from roads.
The seven acre lot size makes the draft consistent with New York State ag and markets law, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said.
After the vote Tuesday, Russell said, “What we have is a situation where Southold’s agricultural industry is evolving. This is completely consistent with that. Some people have expressed some reservations.” That’s why the new draft includes amendments, he said, to mitigate concerns and ensure that there are no impacts to residential communities.
“People need to start asking themselves, if we support local businesses, where do we think it will come from, if not agriculture? And where will jobs come from if we don’t support small businesses?” he said.
She said the face of agriculture has been ever-changing in Southold since the town was born in 1640, with crops such as potatoes, cranberries and corn making way for oyster, scallops, wine, snails and mushrooms.
“Fish farming is not new to Long Island,” she said, with Cold Spring Harbor’s fish hatchery raising trout for 100 years.
She said Celestial Shrimp, a wholesale facility, would use water over and over, with no hormones and no antibiotics. “Just shrimp,” she said, adding that the hope was to cultivate Pacific white shrimp in waters of 86 degrees.
Working in a clean, indoor, climate-controlled facility, she said, produces a “better product, with no environmental degradation.”
Addressing concerns, Gordon said one to two deliveries of feed would arrive each month, with cars limited to employee vehicles and postal service trucks. Processing concerns were not relevant, she said, because the shrimp are to be sold live and whole. “There will be no removal of heads and no decaying matter to attract flies,” she said. The business would use filtered Atlantic saltwater, she said. “It smells like the beach,” she said.
Gordon said the goal was to model the business after the RDM Aquaculture, LLC, a Fowler, Indiana-based company.
Many local restaurants on the North Fork, she said, “can’t wait to serve up our shrimp.”
George Aldcroft of Peconic said while he is not against aquaculture, residents had concerns about noise, size of buildings, and open tanks. He praised the Gordons’ presentation.
At the hearing, Russell reminded that under the Right to Farm law, anyone denied the opportunity to move forward with their proposal could still appeal to New York State..
Many have been concerned with one particular parcel in Peconic; it has been made clear that the location in would not be feasible or possible under current code, Russell said.
Peconic resident John Skabry who, along with his wife Margaret, have been vocal opponents of the proposed shrimp farm for almost a year, brought articles to the hearing about the Indiana fish farm, where he said neighbors have rallied to oppose its expansion, saying it had “an odor similar to a rotten fish bowl.”
Skabry said concerns include water discharged by the farm potentially causing drainage and flooding issues, size of buildings, fecal contamination, garbage, flies, noise, traffic from delivery trucks, smoking processes and canneries.
Bill Toedter of the North Fork Environmental Council, meanwhile, said the new model raises concerns.Toedter urged the board to safeguard the environment and said he worried about what could happen in the event of an emergency, if the water and fish were not self-contained and were released into the environment.
Water quality issues are a concern on the North Fork, he reminded. “The town needs to get in front of this before we allow it to get out of hand,” he said.
Pacific white shrimp, Toedter said, also make “an alarm bell go off, because they’re not native to the area.”
The use of antibiotics and hormones is widespread in many fish operations, and if not in the one proposed, they could be present in future businesses pitched, he said.
One Orient farmer stood up to support the Gordons.
Rod Stankiewicz of Southold was adamantly opposed. “I don’t want it in my backyard,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of a test case.”
Margaret Skabry, who has spoken out in the past, echoed her past issues with the proposal. “I don’t want this in anybody’s backyard,” she said. “Every time someone comes here you bend over backward to give them what they want. You have to say ‘no’. Enforce the rules we have here and worry about how we get treated, first. Think of us, first, before profits.”
Chris Baiz, chair of the town’s agricultural advisory committee, said the East End has the most expensive farmland in the nation and to survive, farmers need value-added products to sell. He said he supported the legislation. “Agriculture has one constant and that constant is change,” he said. “Let’s just get this done.”
After the unanimous vote Tuesday in favor of the new code, there was no comment from the public on the issue.