The Belfast City Council and several city staff members met with state Sen. Erin Herbig and Belfast Rep. Jan Dodge, both Democrats, Feb. 5 to compare notes between two levels of government that have at times had different priorities.

Both the state and local representatives expressed cautious optimism about the coming four years under Gov. Janet Mills, specifically in relation to environmental programs.

Mayor Samantha Paradis asked about the prospects of a Green New Deal, transition to renewable energy and climate adaptation initiatives.

"We've really been a leader in transitioning," she said. "What is the state doing to support other cities and business owners to transition."

"They're looking to Belfast," Dodge said. "And I'm so proud. When this discussion happens, Belfast is the second word out of their mouth. Wow! How can we know more about what they've done?"

Herbig said renewable energy stands a better chance under the new administration.

"It's been very difficult under the last administration," she said. "I've never seen our environment and our economy as being adversaries. … I see it as a real area of opportunity."

A water protection bill drew more scrutiny. Councilor Eric Sanders asked Dodge about a bill she co-sponsored that would put water in the public trust. L.D. 197 would impose a two-year moratorium on large-scale groundwater extraction.

Sanders initially probed with a question about how the bill relates to the interests of Waldo County residents. When Dodge said it was about protecting water for the citizens of Maine, Sanders got more specific.

"I don't know how others feel about it," he said, "but I feel it's a touchy subject with the Nordic situation."

The City Council has strongly back a proposal by Nordic Aquafarms to build a $150 million land-based salmon farm near the Northport town line. Some opponents of the plan have expressed concern about the amount of groundwater the facility would use.

Dodge said she became interested in the subject two years ago in relation to Poland Springs' water use. Additionally, she said, it came up as a concern when she was campaigning door to door.

Councilor Mike Hurley said the arrival of aquaculture has been accompanied by a lot of ignorance.

"I don't know what will happen in Belfast," he said, "but 3,500 miles of coastline and clean Atlantic Ocean? Aquaculture is in our future. It's coming. It's here and I think we really need to embrace it to some extent and figure it out."

City and state reps expressed hope for the expansion of broadband internet, a cause that Herbig has proposed a $20 million statewide bond issue to support.

Questions for which the state representatives didn't have immediate answers included the fate of the armory building, which the Army National Guard vacated last June. City Planner Wayne Marshall noted that the state Department of Transportation has indicated the curb cut — a draw for any future tenant — might go away when the property is sold.

Herbig touted some of her own priorities, and spoke of the newly formed Joint-Standing Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business, which she chairs, and MaineSpark, a collaborative of businesses and education leaders that is looking at "micro-credentials" that would allow workers to qualify for skilled jobs at places like Front Street Shipyard.

Councilors voiced strong support when Dodge asked if they would want her to pursue getting a Department of Health and Human Services office in Belfast. Councilor Neal Harkness said he had pitched the idea to the county commissioners to put the office in the current District Court building, when the new unified courthouse opens.

Editor's note: The story has been updated to identify the official name of the Joint Standing Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business.