To the Mayor and City Council:

On behalf of many of my fellow Belfast citizens, I'm sorry that democracy is inconvenient for you. I apologize.

But you see, we live here. This is our home. And we think we should have a say in what happens here. We don't think big corporations should be able to do whatever they want while we're expected to roll over and play dead. We don't like being handed a done deal.

The decision to change zoning so Nordic Aquafarms can build one of the world's biggest land-based industrial salmon farms here in Belfast was clearly made well before the formal vote. Why else have the April 17 city council meeting in the tiny city council chamber, which everyone knew would overflow.

To be able to televise the meeting, we're told. But at least some of you knew it could be televised elsewhere. And why were accommodations not made so Director of Code and Planning Director Wayne Marshall's presentation materials could be seen by the public?

We implored you to wait until more questions were answered, but this was ignored. Mayor Paradis later told me the Planning Board is "much more poised to do a thorough investigation." But if Nordic passes the already established Planning Board criteria, the board is essentially obligated to permit the project. Thus you were the last chance to simply say no, we don't want a huge industrial fish farm in our small community.

In other words, you simply passed the buck to the Planning Board.

There remain many unanswered question, and statements made by Nordic raise serious questions about its credibility.

In promotional material, Nordic says the facility will have no "adverse environmental impacts." False. Fish produce feces, and Nordic would produce 66,000,000 pounds of fish per year – that's a lot of feces. Nordic says most of that might become fertilizer – might. But the rest will go into Belfast Bay, and that is an adverse environmental impact. Fish feces produces nitrogen and phosphorus, which cause algae blooms and oxygen deprivation for all marine life.

At a May 9 public meeting, Nordic CEO Erik Heim said salmon production is the most efficient way to produce protein. False. Heim indicated that Nordic's salmon would be fed primarily or exclusively fish meal and that one pound of fish meal produces one pound of salmon. But that's misleading. According to Anders Karlsson-Drangsholt, senior aquaculture adviser for the Bellon Foundation in Oslo, Norway, Marine Harvest, the world's biggest salmon producer, uses 100 pounds of fish meal protein to produce only 31 pounds of salmon protein — a protein loss of 69 percent.

According to Frida Bengsston of Greenpeace, it takes two pounds of unprocessed fish to produce one pound of fish meal. That's an overall protein loss of about 84 percent. Even within fish-based protein production, farm-grown salmon is not the most efficient protein production — not even close. That prize would go to the original fish stock.

And that doesn't even count plant-based protein production, which is much more sustainable than any animal-based protein production. Farm-grown fish is not the best protein answer for a crowded planet — not even close.

At the May 9 public meeting, Nordic said it would extract 1,200 gallons of well water per minute. That's more than 630 million gallons per year. That's more than 70 percent of all of Poland Springs' statewide extraction, which comes from several far-flung towns, and it's almost 2 percent of Maine's entire water consumption. It's not hard to see what that could do to local water supplies.

At the May 9 public meeting, Heim said no fish would escape the Nordic farm; but according to Karlsson-Drangsholt, there is "a known problem" of fish escaping from indoor facilities. "No matter how secure they say the facility is, they don't know," Karlsson-Drangsholt told me by phone from Norway. "Even multiple barriers can't prevent escapes." According to Karlsson-Drangsholt, land-based fish are less hardy than open-water fish, and when they breed with open-water fish, the offspring are less hardy. Escaped land-based fish also compete for spawning grounds and destroy the eggs of open-water fish. In 2015, in just one incident, 6,000 fish escaped from a land-based fish farm in Hopen, Norway.

According to Marshall, the city will pay half of Nordic's dechlorination costs for six years. That's $120,000. But Nordic is a for-profit corporation — why should taxpayers cover any of its costs? Marshall Wharf Brewing Company dechlorinates its water, but the city doesn't pay half of that.

At the May 9 public meeting, Nordic showed sketches of an attractive campus replete with a visitor center and modern, state-of-the-art buildings. Nordic hyped the attractive aspect of its proposed reflective buildings. But almost 1 billion birds are killed every year in this country by flying into buildings, and this problem is greatly exacerbated by this kind of architecture.

The Nordic facility would narrow part of the Little River Trail corridor to 250 feet. At a Feb. 21 public meeting, Heim said he knew the trail was beautiful and important and that he appreciated that. But not enough to leave it alone. The trail is indeed beautiful and important, and it would be violated for the benefit of a for-profit corporation.

Nordic says it will invest $450 million to $500 million in its Belfast facility. Bath Iron Works is a $500-million facility. Do we really want a Bath Iron Works in our community?

There has been much talk of due diligence, but you have failed to produce it. This whole thing has acquired the stench of a backroom, sweetheart deal. Rescind the zoning change, listen to your constituents and get more answers. Do your job.

Most sincerely,

Lawrence Reichard

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist living in Belfast.

filed under: