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Amagansett yacht club sues Suffolk over shellfish leases

Exterior views of the Devon Yacht Club In

Exterior views of the Devon Yacht Club In Amagansett which has filed a lawsuit against the county over aquaculture leases in Napeague Bay on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

An Amagansett yacht club has filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County’s aquaculture lease program, alleging 21 potential leases for shellfish farms in Napeague Bay could infringe on members’ sailing.

Devon Yacht Club, which according to the filing in state Supreme Court in Riverhead, has 326 member families who sail 8- to 14-foot vessels from Memorial Day to Oct. 1, alleged the Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Board did not consider the club’s boating rights when it approved 2017 leases on July 26. Also named in the suit is the county Department of Planning and Planning Director Sarah Lansdale.

If completed, the aquaculture operations could make 300 acres of the bay near the yacht club off-limits for boating, the lawsuit states. Of the half dozen potential leaseholders named in the filing, only Amagansett Oyster Co., plans to move forward with shellfish farming, county officials told the club’s attorney.

“It’s a very unfortunate choice of sites. I can’t imagine that the county actually understood there was recreational use here,” Devon’s attorney Linda Margolin said.

A state judge last Wednesday issued an order barring the county from authorizing new leases or allowing operations to move forward on 10 parcels near the yacht club. County officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 27.

Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) said she was hopeful the county could reach a compromise with the yacht club.

“These uses are not incompatible. Our economy depends on both of these groups being able to thrive,” she said.

Adopted in 2009, the aquaculture program offers 5- and 10-acre leases of underwater county-owned land in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay for shellfish cultivation. There are currently 50 leaseholders, according to the county’s website.

The program is intended as an economic stimulus for the marine industry as well as an environmental solution for contamination in the bays. Bivalves such as oysters and clams are natural filter feeders and can help clean the water.

“To limit that is ridiculous,” said Robert Valenti, who owns Multi Aquaculture Systems, one of two aquaculture companies already operating near Devon. It is not named in the suit.

Margolin said the club isn’t against aquaculture in principle — it makes an annual contribution to a shellfish hatchery in Montauk — but has concerns about the location of the parcels named in the lawsuit.

East Hampton Town and the state Department of Environmental Conservation were named as additional respondents in the suit. East Hampton Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski noted that since there are no allegations against the town made in the lawsuit, he expected the town to be dismissed from the case. A spokeswoman for the DEC said agency officials do not comment on pending litigation.

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