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Clinton Harbor Master Wayne Church’s commitment to the town’s waterfront doesn’t end with moorings and channel dredging. He has also been a key contributor to reopening the town’s storied shellfish beds. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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One day nearly 20 years ago, Wayne Church went to Clinton’s town hall to ask for a shellfish license.
“I just assumed I’d be able to clam and the first year I went down to get a license and they said ‘No’ because there were some issues with the state,” Wayne recalls, saying he initially believed it was a temporary problem. Unfortunately, Wayne soon found out the problem was not temporary—there was no shellfishing allowed in Clinton.
Wayne did some research and found out that a combination of factors had led to the closure of Clinton’s once-renowned shellfish beds. In the ‘90s, oysters had begun succumbing to disease, and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration had changed some shellfishing guidelines as well—but what Wayne found most frustrating was that a contributing factor to the closure of the beds appeared to be that the town’s shellfish commission had been in disarray for some time.
Wayne made inquiries with people in town hall and eventually was able to connect with other interested parties to restart the commission in 2004.
“I didn’t really have a lot of experience, but I learned from some of the other members who were on other boards,” says Wayne.
Clinton’s beds reopened in April for the first time in decades, and Wayne was one of the key figures behind making sure that happened. The process, however, was not smooth.
Wayne and the other commissioners were able to get significant work done by pursuing grants from the state’s Department of Agriculture that would allow for the restoration of the beds. Things were looking up, until unforeseen circumstances rained on the commission’s parade.
“We were down a good path until Irene and Sandy exposed some risk factors,” Wayne says.
Specifically, the two storms had exposed septic systems and damaged the shoreline significantly, which set back the commission’s work. Eventually, the systems were upgraded and shoreline repaired. In September 2018, the results of required samples were approved by the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Aquaculture to allow for the beds to open.
“It was exciting and kind of emotional for me,” Church says.
During his time on the commission, Wayne learned about Clinton’s history with oysters.
“Clinton, from an oystering perspective, has always been a powerhouse,” Wayne says.
While Wellfleet oysters may receive more acclaim, Clinton’s oyster actually helped save the more famous brand once upon a time. Wayne says he was told that many years ago, the Wellfleet beds began to die off, and Clinton oysters were actually used to help repopulate the beds.
“It’s come full circle,” says Wayne.
Besides his time on the commission, Wayne has been involved in other areas of Clinton’s life as well. Wayne has served on previous iterations of the Charter Revision Commission, the Cable TV Advisory Board, and is the harbor master for the town.
“I really enjoy how the town has invested in the Town Marina. I really want to make sure the channel is navigable,” says Wayne.
Wayne is an active parishioner at St. Mary’s in Clinton, where he often volunteers at events with the Knights of Columbus.
“It’s something I feel very strongly about,” says Wayne.
Once event Wayne helped start was the Polish dinner that the church has hosted the last three years.
“Not only does it generate money for us to give back into the community, but also it brings people together,” Wayne says of the endeavor.
Volunteering is something that Wayne has been passionate about, especially in Clinton.
“It’s very hard to volunteer in cities, but in small towns, it was my wife and my belief that it’s a small town and everyone should pitch in. When you live in a small town, it’s important to give back,” Wayne says.
Wayne grew up in Southington but moved to Clinton in 1999, a place he had been visiting already for years.
“A friend of mine’s parents used to have a cottage near the strip by Clinton beach and he invited me over there,” he recalls. “I enjoyed it.”
Wayne says he made that trip to visit his friend for several years, and eventually bought a boat he’d launch from the cottage. Eventually, Wayne’s sister moved to town around the time he and his wife began looking to relocate as well.
“Clinton kept popping up on my radar—just a crazy set of coincidences, if you want to call it that,” he says.
In his spare time Wayne says he enjoys the outdoors by boating and hiking, and likes to unwind on Saturdays in the fall by watching the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.
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