Seasonal Oak Bluffs resident Jacob H. Ludwig III has filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County superior court to overturn a decision by town selectmen that grants brothers Dan and Greg Martino an aquaculture license for a two-acre oyster farm off Eastville Beach.
The complaint dated, October 15, alleges that the selectmen failed to conduct a comprehensive review of the project. Additionally, it maintains that the selectmen denied the Eastville opponents the right to proper legal representation.
In his response dated December 9, Oak Bluffs town counsel Michael Goldsmith said that the abutters did not sustain substantial injury to their legal rights and asked the court to dismiss the case outright.
“A series of appellate decisions, several of which arose on the Vineyard, set a relatively high bar for an abutter in a lawsuit of this type to demonstrate an ‘injury’ different from the public at large,” he told The Times. “I think it is important to point out that the applicants secured an approval from the Deputy Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries, which is the only required state approval by statute, and that both the conservation commission’s order of conditions and the selectmen’s license are valid for only three years. Plus, the shellfish warden has broad authority to oversee this operation on a day-to-day basis.”
If the court doesn’t dismiss the case, Mr. Goldsmith requested the matter be adjudicated in Dukes County Superior Court. “We were surprised that the case was brought in Suffolk County, given that the only plaintiff alleged that he ‘resides’ in Dukes County, and given that the project and the town are obviously here.” Mr. Goldsmith said in an email to The Times. “The town raised an improper venue defense in its motion to dismiss as well, and a judge may or may not rule on that issue depending on how the standing question is resolved.”
Long standing feud
A group of Eastville residents has opposed the oyster farm proposal since selectmen granted preliminary approval to the Martinos in March.
They have cited concerns about safety for swimmers, boaters, and windsurfers. They also claim that the farm location is vulnerable to northeaster storms, which could mar the beach with debris. In addition they contend that the associated machinery noise and 100 white buoys will damage the aesthetic quality of the shore.
The Ludwig family lawsuit was filed in superior court on October 15, as a response to the final approval the selectmen granted the project on September 16 with a 4 to 1 vote. The day before the meeting, attorneys from the Boston law firm of Sloane and Walsh submitted a 10-page position statement to the selectmen detailing their client’s objections. A feisty contingent of Eastville Beach residents also attended the meeting, voicing their opposition so strongly that chairman Greg Coogan had to twice use his gavel to restore order.
The day after the meeting, Mr. Ludwig hinted at the suit. He told The Times, “The selectmen decided to take away a public use for a lot of people for a private use for two people. I think the Martino brothers are well-meaning, and aquaculture is almost certainly the future of shellfishing, but we think the location is wrong.” He added that he would confer with his family and the 10 other objecting families and decide whether to seek a temporary restraining order.
The Ludwig complaint also alleges that the Martino brothers did not give residents the required 10-day notice before the first public hearing. When this objection was raised at the September meeting, chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan dismissed it out of hand. “There were Eastville residents at the first meeting,” he said. “The Martinos sent letters to Eastville residents, and 99 percent were signed for. There are a lot of other Eastville homeowners who haven’t come forward. Clearly it bothers some people. But at the end of the day, I think we listened to all sides.”
Citing the ongoing litigation, Dan Martino declined to comment to The Times.