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Venditto pushes to settle baymen dispute

Fishermen Bill Fetzer, left, and Bill Painter, both

Fishermen Bill Fetzer, left, and Bill Painter, both of Bayville, sort clams caught in Oyster Bay. (April 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto Wednesday said he is seeking to halt litigation between the town and baymen who allege illegal shellfishing practices by a company leasing town land in an attempt "to focus all our efforts on settling the matter."

Attorneys for the North Oyster Bay Baymen's Association and Frank M. Flower & Sons commercial shellfishing firm also agreed a series of meetings could produce a resolution.

"I would like no further steps taken by either side to advance the litigation," Venditto said, "until such time as we either amicably resolve the matter or exhaust our efforts to do so."

Venditto would not detail terms to be considered in future meetings, but the civil complaint filed last summer by the baymen alleges Flower moves the markers of an underwater boundary to usurp shellfishing grounds and illegally harvests naturally growing clams.

The decision to attempt a settlement came after Venditto, five baymen and their lawyers spoke Tuesday in a closed-door meeting.

"The whole tenor of the meeting . . . was, 'We don't want to be enemies. We don't want to litigate. We want to control our own destinies,' " Venditto said. "We came with the best interests of the town, the residents and the waterways at heart."

Darrin Berger, of Huntington, an attorney for the baymen's group, used similar language about a potential settlement, saying, "You control your own destiny when you reach an agreement."

Resolving the conflict out of court "would be fantastic," Berger said. "The baymen would welcome sitting down."

An attorney for Flower, which competes with independent baymen for shellfish in Oyster Bay Harbor and leases 1,800 town acres, said he tried months ago to meet with the baymen's group, but found their demands unreasonable.

Gary Ettelman, of Garden City, added, however, that he was still open to meeting. "I'm always happy -- and so are my clients -- to sit down and talk," he said. "Nobody wants to waste time and money on litigation."

A motion to dismiss the baymen's $750 million lawsuit was to be brought before a State Supreme Court judge next month, but town officials said they will now notify the court of an attempt to settle.

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