HARPSWELL — Harpswell will be home to one of the state’s few commercial oyster hatcheries after selectmen approved a lease with Running Tide Technologies Inc., a South Portland company looking to open a hatchery at Mitchell Field early next year.

The town has been meeting with the company since late September to hammer out a lease for a 1.33-acre parcel of the town’s marine business district at the site of the former Navy fuel depot. The property includes a garage and concrete slab that Running Tide Technologies Inc. hopes to transform into a hatchery. According to the company’s owner, Marty Odelin, Mitchell Field is an ideal location for the operation.

“The reason why we like Mitchell Field is it’s super quiet (and has) nice clean water, and for hatching oysters, you want it to be quiet and you want really clean water,” said Odelin. “Everything we do is going to be trying to maximize how quiet and clean it is.”

While oyster farming has been a growing industry over the past few years, the state only has two commercial hatcheries, according to the Department of Marine Resources. One is in Walpole/Damariscotta and the other in Bremen. Oyster farmers rely on the hatcheries for seed, which they then grow over multiple years until the oysters reach market size.

Running Tide Technologies Inc. has four aquaculture leases, all in Harpswell.

“We’re essentially a shellfish farming company, and it might be more accurate to call us a ‘picks and shovels’ company of shellfish farming. Our plan is to build equipment and to provide seed etc., and have our own farms and supply to other people as well,” said Odelin.

According to the lease agreed on last week, Running Tides Technology Inc. will pay just over $6,000 per year in rent to the town for the property, starting at $6,107 in the first year, with incremental increases until the rent reaches $6,874 in the fifth year.

As part of its lease, the company will renovate the building, which needs repairs after years of under-use.

Odelin said the company would spend around $180,000 to renovate the garage into a “state-of-the-art” facility. Their total budget, which includes installing equipment, repaving a concrete slab and running the intake pipe, comes out to around $500,000, he said.

The company will run an intake pipe from the ocean north of the jetty into the facility to provide water for the hatchery. Water will be treated before being discharged back into the ocean. The company also plans to set up a kelp farm at the end of the intake pipe to help clean the water, reducing turbidity and acidity in the water while adding oxygen.

“The water out here is fantastic. It’s as good as it gets,” said Odelin. “It’s exactly in the right target range for salinity and it’s very consistent.”

The company plans to complete renovations and begin operations by March 1, though it already has one eye on expansion.

As part of the lease, the company has the option to expand to an adjacent 3.85-acre parcel to the east. Odelin said if the company exercised that option, it would be looking to build greenhouses to grow feed for the seed and possibly grow more oysters in that area. There is currently a public access road in that parcel, and if the company expands into that area they will relocate the road at their expense.

The company also has floated ideas about kayak and outdoor equipment rentals, as well as oyster cookouts and a tasting area on site.

“We hope to be a good tenant and neighbor of Mitchell Field,” said Odelin. “Our goal for Mitchell Field is just to have the hatchery and then potentially long-term to be growing some feed in a greenhouse.”

In their closing comments, the selectmen noted their appreciation for the size of the project.

“Over the years, we’ve had a number of opportunities come before us. Some quite large. Some controversial. This one is small with a potential to grow very nicely,” said Selectman David I. Chipman. “It fits so nicely in there. I’m very happy to support it.”

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