BRUNSWICK — A marathon public hearing over Mere Point Oyster Co.’s proposed 40-acre lease on Maquoit Bay will carry over into next week after nearly four hours of discussion and debate Thursday night.

On Monday night, opponents of the expansion will chime in.

The Department of Marine Resources is conducting the hearing to determine if Mere Point Oyster Co.’s proposed expansion, which would increase its annual oyster harvest from about 60,000 to up to 1.5 million in the next three years, meets state requirements. Those include factors such as interference with navigation, fishing and other uses, and noise and visual effects, among others. That is much of which a group known as the opposition — Maquoit Bay Preservation Group — is concerned about.

Doug Niven and Brunswick harbormaster Dan Devereaux own and operate the 26 aquaculture sites that make up Mere Point Oyster Co. Niven touted oysters as a valuable ecological resource that could add “resiliency along the Brunswick coastline” with their ability to filter water. Their business, if expanded, would allow younger generations to continue working on the water, they said.

They’re being represented at the hearings by attorneys Patrick Lyons and Andrew Hamilton.

Dana Smith, owner of Smith Boatyard, hauls docks and ramps through the bay, often going through the proposed lease site, he said. He said he didn’t think the oyster farm operation would interfere with his navigation. People still would be able to kayak, water-ski, use personal watercraft and pass through the area.

The lease application details a 5-acre nursery for up to 2 million seed oysters, a 10-acre intermediate area for oysters in the early to middle stages of growth, and 20 acres for the full-grown oysters and for sinking the cages during the winter. An additional 5-acre “experimental” area would be used for scallops and quahogs, and would be submerged year round.

If they consolidated all their gear into one corner of the lease, it would take up about 1.5 acres, maybe a little more, Devereaux said. There are corridors through the site, nearly 12 acres, that are empty of equipment that sailboats and fishermen would easily be able to travel through, he and Niven agreed.

Jon Lewis, Department of Marine Resources aquaculture program director, asked if they anticipated power-washing their gear often, as the lease stated they would be doing so on-site instead of on the shore, as they do now. Niven said they flip the cage twice per month to keep build-up from forming. Doing that minimizes the need for power-washing, which would flush that build-up back into the water. Much of the power-washing would be done in the fall, outside the peak season for seagrass.

Mills also addressed the concern, bringing up “best practices” from the East Coast Shellfish Growing Association and the Maine Aquaculture Association, which both recommend washing gear on shore and not on the water.

However, Niven argued that he had spoken with the shellfish growing association president and they had agreed that in Maquoit Bay there was more tidal flushing, and it was not as much of a problem.

Alyssa Novak, a coastal ecologist with a specialty in seagrass, testified that the lease would not affect eelgrass — a form of underwater vegetation that provides habitat for marine life and helps combat erosion. Eelgrass does exist in the bay, she said, but the site itself doesn’t have any and is unsuitable for it to return because of water quality, water depth and the sediments that are not the species’ preferred mud or clay. She did recommend, however, that if Niven and Devereaux plan to power-wash on site to clean their gear, that they do it with the outgoing tide as a precautionary measure.

Mills asked Novak a number of times — and in multiple ways — whether, hypothetically, if eelgrass were to be found in the area, she would recommend action or for the moorings to be moved. Since she had stated that the area was not conducive for eelgrass growth, Novak refused to comment on hypothetical situations.

Lewis asked if she thought the water quality both in and out of the lease site would improve with the oysters filtering water — up to 50 gallons per day for a single oyster. It was hard to say at this point, Novak said, but she hoped so.

The majority of the opposition’s testimony is scheduled for Monday, but because of a scheduling conflict, intervenor David Clark expressed concerns over the ingress and egress, and if an expansion would “increase unsanctioned use of the recreational boat launch.”

Mere Point Oyster Co. has been using a recreational ramp for commercial launching, he alleged, which the DMR would have to handle.

A few people who are unavailable Monday also were permitted to speak during public comment, including Susan Olcott, who said she has worked closely with Niven and Devereaux over the years, but she opposes the scope of the project. It could have effects in coastal communities across Maine if this becomes the standard, she said, adding that smaller-scale aquaculture, which already has community support, would be the more appropriate way to do it.

Elizabeth Butler, however, held the opposite view and said the lease was an important step in helping to rebuild the bay as a working marine waterfront and provide jobs for the community and the next generation.

Mere Point Oyster Co. will finish its testimony when the hearing continues at 6 p.m. Monday at Brunswick High School’s Crooker Theatre. At that time, the Maquoit Bay Preservation Group offer its testimony. A second group of intervenors, commercial fishermen, also will testify. If needed, additional hearing dates will be scheduled.

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