On paper, a wastewater pipe from Nordic Aquafarms' proposed land-based salmon farm has been shrinking since it was first described this spring. That trend appeared to continue with a recent permit application, but a technical consultant for the project says the length is actually holding steady.

The latest numbers appeared in Nordic Aquafarms' Sept. 20 application to the state Bureau of Parks and Lands to install three pipes under the floor of the bay.

A pair of intake pipes, each two feet in diameter, would extend a little over a mile (5,750 feet) from the mean low tide mark and be used to draw water to the facility. A single 3-foot-diameter pipe to carry treated effluent from the plant back into the bay would extend 1,900 feet from the low water mark.

That number caught the attention of some opponents, who took it as continuing evidence that a pipe carrying potential pollution is inching closer to shore.

Whether it's warranted or not, there's a basis for that fear.

At Nordic Aquafarms' first public information meeting in February, CEO Erik Heim said wastewater from the salmon farm could be discharged as far as 1.5 miles from the shore. On May 9, he told an audience at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center that the pipe would stretch a mile from shore — a promotional video released a month later displayed the same claim in an onscreen montage of selling points for the salmon farm.

Company representatives later switched to metric units and shortened the pipe again, stating that it would be 1 kilometer long, or less than two-thirds of a mile.

A plan view of the three pipes submitted to the Bureau of Parks and Land shows the discharge pipe ending about a half-mile from shore, while other materials in the application, in apparent conflict, picture it closer to two-thirds of a mile.

Nordic representatives have continued to use the larger number. A little more than two weeks after filing the application with the Bureau of Parks and Lands, Heim told a crowd at Troy Howard Middle School that the pipe would extend 1 kilometer from the shore.

Speaking on Oct. 22, Elizabeth Ransom, a technical and environmental consultant with Nordic Aquafarms' partner Ransom Consulting, said 1,000 meters is still the plan.

Nordic has been criticized for mixing systems of measurement, and Ransom acknowledged that this is likely to be a source of confusion. The problem, she said, is that metric measurements are typically used in science, including the science underlying the permitting process.

Ransom said the early projections of up to 1.5 miles were made before any studies of the potential discharge areas. Studies were subsequently done at distances of 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters from shore, she said. And while 500 meters was found to be too close, she said, there was little difference between the longer distances.

"When Erik (Heim) first talked about a mile offshore, it was in the absence of having done any engineering," Ransom said. "As we go forward with engineering, it gets more refined."

The two intake pipes and one discharge pipe would lie within a trench 15 feet wide, with 5 feet of material separating them from the floor of the bay, according to the submerged lands application. The trench would be dug to a temporary width of 25 feet during construction. At that time, a strip roughly 40 feet wide would be temporarily disturbed.

The discharge pipe will lie within that channel, but for what distance remains to be seen.

Carol DiBello, submerged lands coordinator for the Bureau of Parks and Lands, referred to the plan showing the shorter discharge pipe in a phone conversation with The Republican Journal.

The bureau has the pipe extending 1,900 feet from the low-water mark with large mudflats accounting for roughly 700 feet of intertidal zone.

Asked whether the length of that pipe could be changed, DiBello said it depends. If the intake pipe were to be longer, that would require a new review because it would involve leasing more land. The length of the discharge pipe wouldn't change the land lease, but DiBello said it matters, too.

"If they decided to do something significantly different, it would trigger a new review for us," she said.

The Bureau of Parks and Lands is accepting public comment through Nov. 9. Address correspondence to the attention of Carol DiBello:

State of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry
Bureau of Parks & Lands
22 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333

carol.dibello@maine.gov