Nordic Aquafarms will pay to preserve roughly 50 acres of undeveloped land surrounding the Little River upper reservoir if it gets the necessary approvals to build a land-based salmon farm, the company announced Jan. 13.

The deal is the result of an agreement with Belfast Water District, which owns the land surrounding the 30-acre reservoir. Under a preliminary version of the plan, the city would buy the property from the Water District at a reduced cost. Nordic Aquafarms would donate money for the purchase, along with funds for habitat restoration.

The land would be subject to a deed restriction prohibiting any development on the property, including any commercial use of its water resources. Ultimately, ownership of the property would be transferred to a land trust, according to Nordic Aquafarms.

The conservation area would add to a section of the Little River Trail that the city has an agreement to buy and preserve as part of a larger land agreement related to the Nordic Aquafarms development. Combined, the acquisitions would permanently protect 2.8 miles of the Little River trail system.

“We are committed to being a good neighbor and responsible member of the community,” Erik Heim, president of Nordic Aquafarms Inc., said in an announcement of the deal. Heim expressed appreciation toward Belfast resident Joanne Moesswilde, "who initiated discussions with us about preserving this land," and to city and Water District officials, "who have discussed the framework of a long-term plan for the property.”

Moesswilde owns land that borders the proposed preserve on two sides.

Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum is scheduled to present the concept plan to the City Council Tuesday night, after The Republican Journal deadline.

Heim said that one of the first considerations is an engineering study to ensure the safety of the upper dam. A preliminary evaluation recommends lowering the level of the dam as the best way to ensure its structural integrity, according to Nordic Aquafarms.

“There are still many details to work through, but everyone involved is committed to preserving this land in perpetuity for all to enjoy,” Heim said. “I am confident that all of the pieces will fall into place in the months ahead.”

Nordic Aquafarms currently holds an option on 40 acres near the Little River lower dam, where it plans to build a land-based salmon farm. The purchase price for the additional upper reservoir land will be made public as the plan progresses, according to the announcement.

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