City officials agreed to pay up to $240,000 to make way for a $150 million salmon farm, according to agreements signed before the deal was made public.

Nordic Aquafarms LLC announced this week plans to build the new aquaculture facility on 44 acres along Route 1 near the Northport town line. The hatchery and processing operation would produce Atlantic salmon for seafood markets in the northeast United States, and according to the company, be among the largest of its kind in the world.

On Jan. 30, the day of the announcement, Nordic Aquafarms signed an option and purchase agreement with the city and Belfast Water District to buy 30 acres of land owned by the water district for $1,059,000. The utility would move its office to another location as part of the deal.

Additionally, the aquaculture company plans to buy an abutting 14-acre lot owned by Samuel Cassida for an undisclosed amount.

Under terms of a second agreement, the city will pay half the cost of filtering municipal water for use in the new facility in its first years, share the cost of a structural evaluation of a dam on Little River adjacent to the property, buy land on either side of the river to preserve existing hiking trails and offer the Belfast Water District a site for a new office when it moves to make way for the salmon farm.

Nordic Aquafarms inked a separate deal with the Water District to buy a minimum of 100 million gallons of water per year — and up to 260 million gallons — for a period of six years.

Today the utility supplies about 190 million gallons of water per year to customers in Belfast and Northport. Superintendent Keith Pooler said the Goose River aquifer, a rain-fed sand-and-gravel basin in East Belfast that is the source of the city's water, provided as many as 500 million gallons a year several decades ago when Belfast was home to poultry and sardine processing plants.

"So, we have plenty of capacity," he said.

Pooler said Nordic Aquafarms will pay for the first year's water when the company closes on the Water District property. At that time, the clock will be paused until the facility begins operating, which would happen in 2020, according to company projections.

Pooler said the extra revenue will allow the Water District to speed up its regularly scheduled maintenance of the city's water mains, which moves at a rate of about a half-mile per year.

"With the extra revenue, we're hoping we can work our way closer to a mile," he said.

During the same six-year start-up period, the city has agreed to pay half the cost of filtering the water provided by the Water District to remove chlorine that is added to the municipal water supply. The city's share of the estimated $200,000 to $220,000 total cost would be capped at $120,000.

City Manager Joe Slocum said that's a small price to pay for what Belfast will get in return.

"While we're spending $15,000 to $18,000 (per year) to dechlorinate water, we'll be receiving well in excess of $1 million in new tax revenue," he said. "We want to support that because we want the new revenue to the city."

The city and Nordic Aquafarms will split the cost of a structural evaluation of the dam on Little River next to the current Belfast Water District office. The agreement includes an estimate that each party will pay no more than $20,000 unless there is additional consultation.

Belfast will put up another up to $100,000 to acquire as many as 30 acres of Water District land on Little River and the reservoir created by the dam. The acquisition of the roughly 250-foot-wide strips on the Belfast and Northport sides of the river includes Little River Trail, which runs along the north bank of the river from Route 1 to Lincolnville Avenue.

Finally, the city has offered the Water District an option to move its office to a 33-acre parcel on Crocker Road, purchased by the city last year for the construction of a new Public Works garage and solar energy farm.

The City Council authorized the two agreements Jan. 29 following an executive session with Nordic Aquafarms CEO Erik Heim, Elizabeth Ransom of Ransom Consulting and Belfast Water District Superintendent Keith Pooler.

The agreements were initially in draft form with a 24-hour window to be finalized, during which time they were not made public. Nordic Aquafarms' development was unveiled the next day at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center in a formal announcement attended by Gov. Paul LePage and other state and local leaders.

Nordic Aquafarms projects the first phase of the salmon farm development will create 60 high-skill jobs. Additional phases, according to the company, could bring the overall investment to $500 million with a total of 120 to 140 jobs.

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