Mashpee Oyster Farmer Wins in Land Court

Oysters on the half shell.

Oysters on the half shell.

MASHPEE – A land court judge ruled in favor of a Mashpee oyster farmer and the Town of Mashpee this week.

Richard Cook’s attempts to farm oysters in Popponessett Bay have been stalled by a series of legal maneuvers by neighboring property owners who don’t want aquaculture activities in waters in front of their homes.

The decision Tuesday during a hearing in Land Court was a surprisingly rapid development, according to Mashpee Town Council Patrick Costello. The Judge ruled on motions for summary judgment requested both by the Town of Mashpee and the neighbors over a decision by the Mashpee Zoning Board of Appeals to allow the oyster farm.

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Costello explains the town’s involvement in the case. “The town’s position here is not a pro-Richard Cook or an anti-neighbor-type position. It’s merely a posture that we felt was within our public duty to defend the activities and decisions of the town regulatory agencies,” he said.

Costello said the case was important for the town because it concerned the zoning laws of the town. “We don’t believe that the town should succumb to pressure from any particular group of individuals if the underlying rationale and reasons for its decisions are in our view appropriate. That’s entirely the case here,” he said.

Costello says the legal decision means Cook could begin farming oysters in the bay as soon as this winter. “With this decision, I believe he is well on his way if not fully there toward having all necessary permits and approvals in hand. He indicated he could get started this winter if possible,” Costello said.

The neighbors have 30 days to appeal the decision. They have fought the oyster farm hard along the way, Costello said.

“This has been a very vigorous opposition to this proposed use. I believe there were seven different levels of court actions involved up to this junction, all of which were decided in favor of the town boards and commissions and Mr. Cook. And I’ve never seen anything quite like that legislative maneuver to preclude this type of use in the waters of the commonwealth,” he said.