Assault charge is latest skirmish between Oyster Bay clammers and shellfish hatchery
This much is true -- Bayville clammer Donald J. Lopez faces an assault charge after a confrontation with the co-owner of a nearby shellfish hatchery.
What remains uncertain, according to both Lopez, 49, and the attorney for Dwight Relyea, the man he is accused of assaulting Friday, is where this latest skirmish fits in the larger battle for the right to harvest shellfish from Oyster Bay.
Relyea's attorney, James Cammarata, said his client needed several stitches to patch up his face in what he described as an eruption of violence over the harvesting question.
"The guy became highly agitated and, completely unprovoked, attacked Mr. Relyea multiple times," Cammarata said.
Relyea was not charged after the confrontation at the side of Cove Neck Road in Cove Neck. He was treated at Glen Cove Hospital after being repeatedly punched in the face by Lopez, Cammarata said.
Lopez said that he was struck by Relyea, but Cammarata denied that claim.
Lopez framed the conflict as symbolic of the clash between Relyea's shellfish hatchery, Frank M. Flower & Sons, and independent clammers.
"I took this charge for all the baymen who have died over the years of a broken heart, their spirits crushed by Dwight and his machinery," Lopez said.
Lopez is scheduled for arraignment June 12 in Nassau County First District Court.
"I'm confident if this thing goes to trial that I'll be exonerated," Lopez said, adding that he is a member of the North Oyster Bay Baymen's Association and president of an informal group he calls the Oyster Bay Liberation Army.
The Old Brookville Police Department, which arrested Lopez, declined to comment.
In April, an appellate court reaffirmed the company's exclusive rights to harvest a portion of the bay's clam beds until it rules on a lower court decision that declared the hatchery's lease with the Town of Oyster Bay invalid.
The North Oyster Bay Baymen's Association sued in 2011 over the Town of Oyster Bay's 30-year lease, allowing Relyea's company to have exclusive rights to a third of the bay bottom.