A dispute between the mayor and City Council over who should speak and when at public meetings returned at a Feb. 19 council session. But a full airing was tabled to a later meeting.

Two drafts of proposed rules of order — one written by City Manager Joe Slocum, and one by City Attorney Bill Kelly — appeared near the end of the night's agenda. Mayor Samantha Paradis called them "a thinly veiled resolution … to again limit when I can speak at meetings."

"It's very unfortunate," she said, "It is, however, the current reality."

Slocum said he presented the rules "in an effort to find a process that works for all of you."

Councilor Neal Harkness moved to table the discussion until all council members could participate — Councilor Eric Sanders was absent.

Other councilors made brief comments. Councilor Mike Hurley said he didn't believe the proposed rules were a veiled attempt to "muzzle" the mayor. "I'm happy to hear you speak any time," he said, "but I do think we've had some serious problems recognizing people." Councilor Paul Dean said he was not interested in squelching the mayor's comments. He supported the motion to table.

Paradis began to reiterate her earlier comments that the rules were an attempt to limit when the mayor speaks but was cut off by Harkness, who said, as a point of order, that his motion had been to table discussion to a later date.

Water bills

The council talked about several bills in the Legislature that could affect the land-based salmon farm proposed for construction in Belfast by Nordic Aquafarms. Belfast Rep. Jan Dodge is the primary sponsor of LD 620, "An Act Regarding Licensing of Land-based Aquaculture Facilities," and a co-sponsor of LD 197 "An Act to Convene a Working Group to Authorize a Public Trust for Maine's Groundwater and to Impose a 2-year Moratorium on Large-scale Groundwater Extraction."

Thomas Kittredge, the city's economic development director, said he believes there is "an intent with some of this legislation to negatively affect the Nordic Aquafarms project." He raised concerns that LD 620, which considers the cumulative effect on marine life of all aquaculture facilities using the same body of water, would tie the Belfast salmon farm to a smaller salmon farm proposed by Whole Oceans for construction in Bucksport.

"From a fairness standpoint, we have some real concerns with that," Kittredge said. "Nordic Aquafarms and Whole Oceans are two separate companies, and we generally feel that that Nordic shouldn't be affected by Whole Oceans, should they do something wrong."

LD 197 would place a two-year moratorium on significant groundwater extraction, which Kittredge said could affect Nordic Aquafarms. Additionally, the bill would centralize control of the state's drinking water supply.

Slocum said he understands people's fear of losing access to clean water, but he said LD 197 doesn't seem to be backed up by data.

"I would really like to read, and maybe there are stories all over the state where droughts are happening and people have lost their water supply from commercial development," he said. "I'm just not reading that in the paper."

Councilors agreed with the general sentiment from staff that LD 197 is unfair to business, but Mayor Paradis said a discussion of fairness should consider the goal of LD 197, to protect marine and freshwater life from unreasonable risk.

"Who speaks for the eel grass?" she said. "Who speaks for the lobsters moving north as the ocean acidifies?"

Councilor Harkness added, "Who speaks for the laid-off workers?"

LD 620 is scheduled for a public hearing Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. at the Cross State Office Building, Room 214, Augusta. A hearing for LD 197 was cancelled and had not been rescheduled at this writing.

Harbor Walk easement

City Manager Joe Slocum said talks are ongoing with Paul Naron over an easement through two waterfront properties Naron hopes to develop.

The Republican Journal reported previously that the council refused to approve Naron's plans to renovate buildings at 7 and 15 Front St. and build a marina unless the developer grants the city a permanent easement for the Harbor Walk, a public path that runs through both properties. Naron, who opened the walkway to the public when he bought 15 Front St. in 2017, previously said he has offered a long-term lease with better terms than those the city accepted with Penobscot McCrum for a separate segment of the rail trail.

"We're having very civil conversations," Slocum said. He added that the process is not unique to Naron's properties. "It's not a bad discussion. The discussion is called for in our zoning ordinance."