WELLFLEET — The select board voted 4-0 on March 23 to approve Chair Michael DeVasto’s request that his two-acre aquaculture grant be enlarged by 1.3 acres, on two conditions: that Harbormaster Will Sullivan confirm the move will not affect harbor navigation, and that Shellfish Constable Nancy Civetta perform a site visit to assess potential conflicts with other growers or wild harvesters.
DeVasto recused himself from the discussion and vote.
Four days before the meeting, on March 19, Civetta had formally asked the board to postpone the DeVasto hearing by two weeks.
“I only found out about this hearing yesterday morning from Mike himself,” she wrote in an email. “Therefore, I have not been able to conduct a site visit to the proposed grant extension to walk the bottom (with Asst. Constable John Mankevetch), check that the buoys marking the current grant are in the accurate locations, and understand the proposed extension’s proximity to the Blackfish Creek channel … I imagine that you would want some input from the Shellfish Department about this.”
By the March 23 meeting, though, Civetta had changed her mind. “After extensive conversations,” she said, “Mike asked if we could approve — if you could approve — it tonight, based on certain conditions. After a long conversation tonight, I said okay.”
The pandemic, DeVasto wrote to the other select board members on Feb. 7, had cut revenue from his existing grant on the southern side of Indian Neck Beach, adjacent to Field Point, by 48 percent. And he wrote that it had “created an overstock of product that has resulted in lack of functional space for grow-out and room for the incoming seed.” Hence DeVasto’s proposed 1.3-acre grant extension. Immediately south and west of his farm, it would allow him to retain his current employees and maintain his operation, he said.
The area DeVasto wants to add to his grant, designated as 855C, has never been farmed before, according to select board member Helen Miranda Wilson. Both that grant and DeVasto’s current grant are part of the former HDYLTA Trust property, which the town purchased in 2019 for $2 million.
Mass. General Laws Chapter 130, Section 57 and Wellfleet shellfish regulations 7.6, 7.8.1, and 7.12.4 lay out the process for Wellfleet residents seeking new aquaculture licenses and extensions.
The license seeker must apply to the select board, which is also the town’s licensing board and shellfish regulatory board. After confirmation from the state Div. of Marine Fisheries (DMF) that the proposed grant would “cause no substantial adverse effect on the shellfish or other natural resources of the city or town,” the board can approve a grant.
Only after such approval can a biological survey by the DMF, licensing from the Army Corps of Engineers, and a MEPA review be conducted — and only after those tasks have been completed can the license seeker begin using his grant.
Postponing his hearing by two weeks would have delayed engaging with the DMF until the first week of May “due to the schedule of the select board and the requirements of DMF to have approved minutes and paperwork submitted by administration,” DeVasto wrote to the Independent. “It was important for me to get the process started as soon as possible.”
Civetta, who stressed in the March 23 meeting that “Mike did everything quite correctly according to Mass. General Law,” denied repeated requests for comment.
Wilson said that DeVasto’s request for a conditional approval was “not illegal, just unusual.”