A man’s clever business idea for an aquaponics crab farm died at the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday when he became angry and yelled at the commissioners for asking so many questions.
Gerard Mallon filed a special exception request with the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, asking permission to build an aquaponics facility to farm soft-shell crabs and other fish for wholesale distribution.
Aquaponics is a method of growing fish and plants together in one integrated system. The waste produced by the fish provide nutrients for the plants, which in turn purify the water.
The eco-friendly start-up is the kind of business that would typically receive a warm welcome from the quaint but progressive industrial district of Bay St. Louis, and the commission seemed eager to learn about what Commissioner Gary Knoblock described as a “great idea.”
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Expecting to see a business plan — with details such as the sizes of the fish tanks, types of plants, lighting, waste disposal and more — the commissioners instead received only an internet printout describing aquaponics and what eventually became a strange argument.
Mallon began his presentation with a history lesson on aquaponics and its ancient roots in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. He said aquaponics will likely be used everywhere in the United States in about 20 years.
“It’s going to put about 20 families in this area into a good standing,” Mallon said. “I have all the products sold. It’s eagerly awaited.”
His business would be a cooperative of employees with shared ownership. His staff would include a marine biologist, a botanist and about 12 to 15 other personnel, he said.
He said the facility would grow lettuce, soft-shell crabs and possibly redfish and trout.
The commissioners expressed much interest in the idea and had numerous questions, especially regarding the highly-regulated redfish and other marine life Mallon intended to farm.
However, they received “vague” and “argumentative” responses, Knoblock said.
When one commissioner inquired about any possible odors coming from the facility, Mallon said businesses that fry chicken smell much worse. When asked how many fish tanks he planned to have, Mallon said it could be 20 or up to 200 tanks.
“We have no business plan at all,” Commissioner Kevin Jordan said. “All we have is three pages printed off the internet.”
The United States Department of Agriculture has a wealth of information dedicated to aquaculture business planning on its website, www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/business-planning.
Mallon contested the commission’s authority, saying it wasn’t their job to ask such questions.
When asked if he believed such a large, sophisticated operation would be profitable from selling wholesale food already on the market, Mallon abrasively replied, “I’m not here for a loan.”
“You kind of give us bits and pieces of information and leave a lot for us to guess about,” Knoblock said. “We don’t want to guess … where is the information, Gerry?”
“I have it here,” Mallon said, pointing to his head. “And I have it in a notebook, and I can probably show you. I’ve been doing it for over five years.”
Several times the commissioners told Mallon they thought his idea was great and would like to see such a business in the city, but without even a rudimentary drawing of the facility’s proposed layout, the commissioners said they couldn’t approve a zoning exception.
“The level of detail you want would be the equivalent of asking me to recite something backwards,” Mallon said.
Tuesday was the second appearance Mallon made before the Planning and Zoning Commission. After his first one, the commissioners told him to come back with more information.
“I’m not totally against it,” Knoblock said. “I think it’s a good system. It’s just the way you present it. … Gerry, you’re argumentative.”
Knoblock’s comment angered Mallon.
“I’m argumentative?” he said, loudly. “Have a look at yourself in the mirror.”