Friends of Bassing Beach file a lawsuit asking the court to review land ownership rights.
The town of Scituate, Massachusetts is taking heat for planning to lease tidal flats to private shellfish farmers in Briggs Harbor for their exclusive use. A group of homeowners, called the Friends of Bassing Beach, filed a lawsuit against Scituate and the thirteen individuals who applied for permits in May, asking the judge to decide ownership of the tidal flats where the oyster farms will operate.
The plan has been in progress since back in fall 2018 when Jamie Davenport, an owner of a commercial shellfish operation in East Dennis, approached the selectmen with the proposal. When negotiated, the town solidified plans to lease 15 acres in Briggs Harbor to private companies and individuals. However, neighbors, nearby Cohasset and Cohasset residents, boaters and recreational groups took issue with this. Local sailing enthusiasts were the first to oppose the plan, fearing it would interfere with boaters. Those looking to use the waters for recreation, like they’ve done for the past 100 years, will no longer have access to do so. They came together to form the Friends of Bassing Beach and bought property along the shore in mid-April.
“There’s some vaguery in this with regard to who will be able to enjoy the territory and when,” according to Attorney Martin Gaynor, who represents Friends of Bassing Beach. “Where those plots actually are has not been precisely delineated. They used post-it notes to mark them.”
He added residents “believes it has a superior title, or a better claim to the land, which will be decided in its deed research. We’re also independently evaluating where the low- and high-water marks are, to demonstrate what clearly belongs to the town.”
Land Court Judge Diane Rubin said the Bassing Beach landowners are within their rights to have the court determine ownership and proceeding with a filing was warranted because it is reasonable for them to seek that clarification before the project begins.
The Friends of Bassing Beach’s website for petition indicates: “The applicants were vetted by the Shellfish Advisory Commission during an improperly closed executive session meeting before being sent to the board of selectmen, who have taken no action. The Attorney General found the advisory commission in violation of the open meetings law and ordered them to revise and release minutes from the wrongly closed meeting.”
“It sounds like the town didn’t understand the property rights when they put it out for solicitation,” Rubin said. The attorney representing the farming applicants named in the suit, John Danehey, filed a motion to dismiss based on Massachusetts’ anti-SLAPP law, which allows a defendant who believes he has been targeted to exercise his right to petition to dismiss early in the process.
Danehey said his clients should have never been named in the dispute, because they are looking to simply take advantage of a program that was presented to them. Rubin responded the applicants should not have to bear the costs of litigation and asked the court to keep costs low. Gaynor confirmed he will attempt to minimize their involvement.