Despite Town Board assurances, shrimp farm protests continue

In this photo from November, Tess Gordon of Celestial Shrimp shows town board members one of their shrimps. That meeting, and subsequent discussions about changing the code, has led to an outcry from residents.  (Cyndi Murray photo)
Tess Gordon of Celestial Shrimp shows the Town Board in November one of farm’s shrimps. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

About 20 residents from Peconic, Cutchogue and Mattituck made one thing clear at Tuesday night’s Southold Town Board meeting: They don’t want a shrimp farm anywhere near their homes.

The concerned locals — who were roused to action after reading a code committee draft that mentioned allowing shrimp farms in residential zones — spoke at the meeting for more than an hour and demanded the Town Board scuttle the proposed plan.

“To put anything in this area, which is so environmentally sensitive, is unconscionable,” Gary Stroud of Peconic said.

But Supervisor Scott Russell — as he said weeks ago when the same issue was brought up — repeated that no proposal for a shrimp farm existed.

While a shrimp farm must be allowed to operated in town due to state agricultural law, Mr. Russell said, the town is in early stages of determining which zones (such as agricultural or industrial areas) would be best for the usage.

He added the locations for shrimp farms won’t be in residential areas.

“I personally don’t envision a scenario in which fish farms are allowed in a residential zone,” Mr. Russell said.

The public outrage over shrimp farming spawned from a November Town Board meeting when Tess Gordon, owner of Celestial Shrimp, addressed the board.

During that meeting, Councilwoman Jill Doherty asked if Celestial Shrimp had identified any properties to expand its business.

Ms. Gordon said her company was eyeing a 9-acre property in Peconic, which is zoned as a residential lot. She later told The Suffolk Times that it was too early in the planning process to consider a specific property.

A later code committee meeting, in which a draft was discussed that would have allowed a zoning change, further galvanized neighbors.

At a Town Board meeting in December, John and Margaret Skabry, who live next to the property Ms. Gordon had said she was looking into acquiring, demanded the Town Board nix the shrimp farm idea.

On Tuesday night, more than a dozen other residents added their voices to the protest.

Some said the Town Board was rushing to approve the zoning change, accusing council members of spot zoning. One woman waved a copy of the state agricultural regulations from the podium and demanded to know where shrimp farms were mentioned.

The public comment portion of the meeting later shifted to a broader discussion of how the North Fork’s character is changing — from increased traffic to land preservation.

“We need to take a long look at what needs to be done to preserve our way of life,” Michael Harvey of Peconic said. “You guys really need to take a long hard look at what you’re doing.”

Benja Schwartz, a regular at Town Board meetings and an outspoken advocate for preservation of North Fork’s way of life, said he’s “lost faith in this Town Board.”

“You’re ignorant,” he said. “You don’t understand proper procedure and you’re gutting the substance of the laws that are left that are giving us some form of protection.”

Councilman Jim Dinizio added his own criticism, saying that planning director Heather Lanza should not have met with the Gordons before their proposal was submitted.

“Who knows how that looks?” he said. “To me, it looks like perhaps the town is favoring them. Who can blame the person here or any of these people who feel that the deck is stacked against them?”

Ms. Doherty clarified Tuesday night that she had asked about the property back in November to find out its zoning to see if the current code allowed shrimp farming.

Both she and Mr. Russell agreed Tuesday that “inappropriate” to ask about the property location at the time since no proposal was ever made.

Town Board members also said Tuesday that the draft legislation in code committee was intended to jumpstart discussions about current zoning. Mr. Russell stressed that any code change would require a lengthy process of hearings and public comment.

Mr. Russell said the correct process had been followed and that the public hadn’t been left out of any discussions.

He also encouraged residents to go to the code committee with any concerns.

“We welcome everyone’s input,” he said. “We’re not rushing pell-mell into anything.”

[email protected]