City Councilor Mary Mortier, now seeking a fourth term, has been relatively quiet in her support for the proposed salmon farm, often waiting for her fellow councilors to weigh in before offering her own opinion.

That's intentional, she said.

In contrast to claims from opponents that the council isn't listening, Mortier said she likes to hear everything that needs to be said before making a decision. To date, she has supported the proposal for the much-needed property tax revenue the land-based salmon farm would generate.

She defended the process to date and said city and Water District officials have been exceptionally diligent in their reviews. Additionally, she has a gut feeling. In her earlier career as a garment industry worker traveling the world with sporadic access to translators, she said, she developed a knack for reading body language.

In numerous discussions with Nordic CEO Erik Heim, Mortier said nothing ever seemed amiss.

"I never had a little red flag fluttering in my gut that said this is not an honest, forthright person," she said.

She defended the closed-door sessions before the formal announcement of the salmon farm in January as common practice when a business in a competitive market is evaluating its prospects. In the case of Nordic Aquafarms, Mortier felt that Heim was almost too eager to share his plans with the public.

If the salmon farm doesn't pass muster with state and federal agencies, Mortier said she wouldn't hesitate to send it down the road. "But you've got to go through the process to get there," she said, adding that the process has barely begun.

During her three terms on the council, Mortier has favored investments in the future, even if it means paying more up front. Along these lines, the city has built three solar electric farms, converted street lights to LEDs, contracted to build a new Public Works facility and signed off on major upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.

Her campaign signs read: "Focused on our future."

Looking ahead, she said, affordable housing will be a top priority. As a real estate agent, Mortier said she's seen the housing market squeezed from the top, as several waves of gentrification turned multi-family rentals into single-family homes and then second homes for seasonal residents; and from the bottom, as high construction costs and taxes have halted new construction of workforce housing.

In the current race, she questioned her write-in challenger's claim of being interested in process, given that she skipped over the process to become an official candidate.

Ellie Daniels said her late rally to replace Mortier wasn't about lack of commitment, but a matter of necessity after learning that another candidate — a former city councilor — had opted not to run.

A retired midwife of 38 years and owner of The Green Store, Daniels has a personal stake in whether the salmon farm is built. From the living room of her Perkins Road home, she can see the property line, across a short stretch of field to a broken row of small trees, beyond which a large industrial building might one day rise. It's not the building that bothers Daniels most, but the idea of being so close to an ongoing mass slaughter of fish.

"I feel like I'm running for council because I can't live here if I don't," she said. "That's really the bottom line for me, and it's been home for almost 40 years."

Like other opponents of the salmon farm, Daniels believes the city rushed to accommodate Nordic Aquafarms at the expense of residents, whose comments were treated as an afterthought.

"It's about realizing that, if I'm going to be heard, I'm going to be heard from within," she said.

To be effective, she said, salmon farm opponents need to hold a majority on the City Council. However, she was quick to say that the goal is not a power grab, but a bid to bring residents back into the city's decision-making process.

Through her opposition to the salmon farm, she has been in the crosshairs of sometimes-hostile criticism, particularly on social media, where she said even city councilors have been vicious.

"We're suffering from a loss of basic respect and civility in the face of disagreements," she said.

Daniels sees the city's economic development campaign in recent years as "overambitious" with too much emphasis on quick growth — by contrast, the salmon farm opposition group she started is named Local Citizens for Smart Growth.

She sees this trend when the city is "bending over backward for big industries, while writing a nasty letter to downtown merchants (saying) you better shovel your sidewalk or else," she said.

Belfast has escaped the cycle of relying on large, fickle businesses for tax revenue and shouldn't go back, she said. Walmart was one such business. Residents fended off the big-box retailer through a referendum, she said, and the downtown has thrived as a result.

"The City Council hated when that referendum went through," she said.

Like Mortier, she sees a lack of perspective in the current debate over Nordic Aquafarms, but with the effect tilting in favor of the salmon farm as the next big industry.

"We're not very worldly about how badly we could be exploited for our resources," she said.

As a write-in candidate, Daniels is asking her supporters to be extra diligent. Municipal election rules require that write-ins appear under the correct ward. Shortened names or commonly used nicknames — Daniels rarely goes by her full first name, Eleanor — are acceptable, as are minor misspellings, to the extent that the intent of the voter is clear.