Much at stake

We’ve attended nearly all of the public meetings hosted by Nordic Aquafarms about the proposed salmon farm in Belfast, some of which were voluntary on the part of the company and some mandated by the permitting process.

In some respects, the meetings — which typically last more than two hours each — are like reruns. We see a handful of the same people asking the same, or similar, questions. That issue aside, we would like to see changes to the standing five-minute comment format to allow speakers with more complex questions to give any necessary context. The time limit, while more than reasonable for general questions, and a good check on aimless rants, has often led to unnecessary power struggles between the hosts and speakers at public forums.

Despite the verbal sparring, for those who have not already attended a public meeting or spoken with company representatives, or who haven't seen or read news coverage of the project, these sessions are informative. Those who aren’t able to attend in person are fortunate to be able to watch many of the meetings after the fact, thanks to Ned Lightner at BCTV.

We encourage everyone in Belfast, Northport and Waldo County beyond, no matter your overall feelings about the salmon farm, to attend, or watch, at least some of the meetings. This project, and the aquaculture industry, could significantly change Belfast, be it for better or for worse. It is crucial for area residents to understand exactly what this large business proposal means for Belfast, Penobscot Bay and the surrounding communities.

But don’t just take a quick look at one aspect of the proposal and make a firm decision — there are many factors to consider and still much more information to come.

For example, during a recent meeting, Nordic CEO Erik Heim said he was not willing to specify the type of feed — the ingredients of which ultimately will be discharged into the bay in one form or another — because no salmon will be present for at least two years. In the interim, he said, a new type of feed could be developed, and Heim said he does not wish to be bound to a decision made two years prior.

Considering the rate at which the aquaculture industry is developing, and the early stages of this project, there are bound to be changes.

Some aspects of the project might not change at all from when first proposed; others might change markedly. We won’t know until the entire process plays out or peters out.

Obviously, much is at stake for us, not the least of which is tax revenue and jobs on the one hand, and questions of possible bay pollution, potential depletion of water resources, and changes to the character of Belfast as a community, as well as to its natural environment, on the other.

For those staunchly on one side or the other, for or against, we hope you will keep an open mind and carefully consider new information about the project, rather than summarily dismissing that information simply because it doesn’t align with your views.

It's critically important to the process to keep a community dialogue going, and that requires your participation. The next meeting is scheduled in January; we hope to see a large turnout of new faces.

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