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Monday, January 8, 2024

Yet another aqua-NIMBY lawsuit over Point Judith oyster farm

Lawsuit challenges public notice in Point Judith Pond oyster farm

by Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

In October, attorney Mark Fay put state coastal regulators on alert for an imminent legal challenge to a half-acre oyster farm approved for Narragansett’s Point Judith Pond.

Just before the end of the year, Fay, a partner at Providence law firm Murphy & Fay LLP,  made good on his promise. 

A Dec. 22 complaint filed in Providence County Superior Court against the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council sets the stage for what could be another protracted legal battle over bivalves in the Ocean State. Unlike legal disputes over other controversial oyster farms, the complaint centers not on the project itself, but on the lack of notice to neighbors. 

Fay represents a handful of residents, trustees and a business entity that own properties on Narragansett’s Little Comfort Island, which sits just south of the half-acre oyster farm proposed for Point Judith Pond. Yet the group of neighbors never got notice, from the CRMC nor from the prospective oyster farm operator, Andrew Van Hemelrijck, during the last three years of review, public comment and negotiations, according to the complaint. 

“Clearly that’s a violation of due process rights,” Fay said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s pretty straightforward. I represent the closest abutters to this proposed oyster farm yet none of my clients received any notification.”

Fay voiced similar concerns to the CMRC in September, when he and his clients first got wind of the proposal to grow oysters and quahogs in bottom cages across a half-acre of the pond.

Despite his objections, the council approved the project unanimously in late October, based on the advice of its attorney regarding public notice requirements. State regulations require the CRMC to notify “immediate abutters” and “appropriate municipal agencies” about formal applications, along with anyone else who requests to be on the notice list.

The October approval included a set of conditions reached from negotiations between Van Hemelrijck and a separate group of neighbors who also initially opposed the oyster farm, but acquiesced after mediation.

Fay’s complaint names Van Hemelrijck, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Terrence Gray and all eight members of the CRMC as plaintiffs. It asks a Superior Court judge to throw out the October approval, forcing Van Hemelrijck to refile on his application and the CRMC to start anew its review process.

Van Hemelrijck, a South Kingstown resident, was not immediately available to comment on Wednesday. However, he urged the council in October not to delay its decision, having already waited more than three years since filing his 2020 lease application.

The CRMC did not return inquiries for comment on Wednesday.

The approved aquaculture lease within Point Judith Pond is the last available based on state regulations  limiting commercial aquaculture activities per coastal pond.



Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.