A vandalized tractor at Belfast Water District has some people wondering if the act was done in protest of a proposed salmon farm.

The vehicle, a 1968 Massey Ferguson owned by Holmes Greenhouse and Florist, was found Aug. 13 with a smashed headlight, cut spark plug wires, a stick jammed into the oil filling tube and a glue-like substance poured over the seat and other surfaces.

But it was the cryptic message spray-painted across the hood that caught the attention of the owner and prompted a police investigation.

Liz Bruns, a family friend of the Holmeses who volunteers at the greenhouse, interpreted it as "Green" with a smiley face underneath and some other marking. While the message wasn't crystal clear, she said the location of the tractor made her think it was the work of an environmental activist.

"It seems kind of unrandom," she said. "All this debate going on, and this happens."

The Water District property where the tractor was parked is under contract to Nordic Aquafarms for construction of a $150-million land-based aquaculture facility to raise Atlantic salmon.

Since it was announced in January, the proposal has met with protests from residents concerned about the environmental impact of the facility, which will rely on large amounts of groundwater and the ability to discharge its treated wastewater into the bay.

The tractor was outfitted with a bush hog. Allen Holmes said he parked it there overnight, as he has for several years.

"I do a job down the road and the Water District allows me to drive in there with my truck and trailer," he said. "It's easy access for loading and unloading."

Holmes estimated the damage at $300 to $350 in materials. He didn't have an opinion about who did it or why, but he doubted it was anything personal.

Belfast Water District Superintendent Keith Pooler, speaking the day after the vandalism, said he hoped it was kids.

"I hope it's not what everyone's thinking," he said.

Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden believes it could be what everyone is thinking, but speaking a week after the incident, he said he doesn't know exactly why it was done the way it was, or who did it.

Initially, McFadden read the spray-painted message as "Green 420," which he took for a boilerplate marijuana reference, the result of "youth antics." But other evidence didn't match up. Spray-painters usually "tag" a number of things in an area, he said, and they don't typically do other kinds of damage.

He concluded that someone either had a beef with the owner of the tractor, which he ruled out based on Holmes' reputation, or was trying to send a message.

"Looking at it closer, I don't think the word says 'green,'" he said. "I think it says 'greedy.'"

He figured the number was more likely to be 42, which he learned through conversation with City Planner Wayne Marshall is the number of acres under contract to Nordic Aquafarms.

"With just those two things, our suspicions are elevated that we may be dealing with someone who opposes the salmon farm," McFadden said.

He was quick to say that he knows most of the outspoken opponents of the salmon farm and doesn't believe they did it.

Ellie Daniels, a leader of the opposition group Local Citizens for SMART Growth, learned about the vandalism from a Facebook post by City Councilor Mike Hurley, who flatly accused opponents of the salmon farm.

After trying unsuccessfully to reach Holmes at the greenhouse, she started calling members of her group, including a younger member and an older radical activist type. None knew anything about it, she said. All thought it was unfortunate, at best.

"Why would we do something like that when we had a really good presence at the public hearing last week?" Daniels said. "That wasn't the style or desire of our group to do that kind of action."

McFadden said Belfast Police will continue to investigate and will go wherever the evidence leads. That could be nowhere or right back to the escapades of bored teens. But if it's something larger, he said, he wants to talk to the perpetrator before it goes any further.

"I'd like to make sure they understand there are better ways to get your message out there," he said. "That's not how we do business in Belfast."