A Bureau of Parks and Lands request that the city comment on potential impacts of Nordic Aquafarms’ latest plan for submerged intake and discharge pipes elicited comments from opponents during the May 7 City Council meeting.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, speakers urged the city either to make no comment, or to comment in opposition to the company's application for a submerged lands lease.

Following subsequent presentations on the issue by City Planner Wayne Marshall and Harbor Committee members Joanne Moesswilde and Dan Miller, councilors voted unanimously not to comment beyond passing along three city zoning ordinance clarifications and three Harbor Committee recommendations.

Kim Ervin Tucker, a Lincolnville attorney representing Belfast-based Upstream Watch and local members of the Maine Lobstering Union, reviewed objections she filed with the bureau last week. Her brief objects to the proposed pipe route on grounds that Nordic lacks right, title and interest to the intertidal zone the pipes would cross.

The latest plan calls for three pipes running from the proposed salmon farm site — currently the headquarters of Belfast Water District — to two locations in the bay. Two 30-inch-diameter intake pipes would bring water from about a mile out to the salmon farm, while a single 36-inch-diameter pipe would return treated wastewater to a location a half-mile from shore.

Nordic Aquafarms has based its plan ― its third proposed pipe route ― on an easement purchased from waterfront property owners Richard and Janet Eckrote, Ervin Tucker said, but noted, "The Eckrotes do not own the intertidal land that their lot fronts." Moreover, their deed contains a covenant, dating to 1946, which restricts in perpetuity (forever) the intertidal zone to residential use only.

Use of the intertidal zone in question is further limited by a conservation easement placed on it by its legal owners, Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, the attorney said. Covering their land from the Little River to the north side of the Eckrote lot, their conservation easement stipulates that it "preserve (the land) in its natural condition," Ervin Tucker said.

Emphasizing that Nordic does not have the right, title or interest to install its pipes in this intertidal zone, Ervin Tucker said, “They don’t own it, Eckrotes don't own it, and the people that do own it have protected it," so Nordic “can never get title, right and interest.”

Once Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands saw this evidence, Ervin Tucker said, the bureau gave Nordic until May 16 to demonstrate that they have right, title and interest to the property to be crossed by the pipes.

"This will be the third bite at the apple," she said.

“We do not oppose land-based aquaculture,” the attorney pointed out, adding that the groups she represents have never opposed Bucksport’s plans for a land-based plant on the site of the former Verso paper mill.

However, she said Nordic proposes “to dump 7.7 million gallons of wastewater a day into the bay. “Nordic Aquafarms would dump more in a day than the entire (neighboring) community of Bayside can dump in a year ― 7 million gallons that they can dump in a year,” she said.

Underscoring Ervin Tucker’s points, Amy Grant, president of Upstream Watch, said, "It's clear the Eckrotes never owned the intertidal zone that Nordic wants to cross.” She urged the council to oppose or file no comment at all.

According to the brief Ervin Tucker filed last week with the Bureau of Parks and Lands, Upstream Watch is the nonprofit group to which Mabee and Grace deeded the intertidal zone conservation easement.

Preceding Ervin Tucker, David Black of Belfast, identifying himself as a lobster fisherman, said that while not opposed to overall aquafarm proposal,"I am adamantly opposed to the construction of multiple pipelines extending over a mile into Belfast Bay.

“As someone who has decades of experience as a lobster fisherman, research vessel captain, Zone D Lobster Management Policy Council chairman for seven years, where I represented 1200 fishermen on Penobscot Bay, and as a former Belfast Harbor Committee member for 23 years,  I feel qualified to offer you my advice on this subject,”  he said.

In his opinion, he said, the proposed construction, as well as the “unknown effects of the operation of discharge and intake pipes as proposed … would cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem of upper Penobscot Bay” and potentially would “severely limit my ability and the ability of other fishermen in the area to continue making a living lobster fishing on this bay.”

Black recommended the city not provide any comments, “or risk falsely representing certain segments of the public.”

John Krueger of Northport, a member of Upstream Watch, reminded councilors of their concerns in 2013 about the proposed dredging of Searsport Harbor. He read the City Council's letter dated Dec. 3, 2013, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers NE District, requesting a comprehensive environmental impact study, expressing concerns about potential damage at the proposed dumping site, and asking that the corps "please ensure" that the operation was "ecologically sound."

"That site is only a mile from the proposed site for the submerged pipes," he said.

Andy Stevenson of Belfast, also a member of Upstream Watch, also urged the city to make no comment or to speak in opposition.

He said members of the organization have spent considerable time discussing “what we would do if we didn’t have a fish factory ― and it is a factory, not a farm.” Historically, he said, the Little River was the site of a herring run.

Restoring it, he said, would “get more herring into the bay and have more bait for lobstermen.” It is also possible, he said, “to put in kinds of structures that would encourage more native fish to come back to Little River.”

The Belfast Water District property, he said, would be a “great spot for a research center and a focal point for other efforts to restore other native populations in the bay.”

“There are other models of aquaculture that are carbon-neutral, require no large capital investment, and are energy independent,” he said, citing as an example a “full water column aquafarm” model from Green Wave (greenwave.org) that “utilizes every depth down to the surface, allows a farmer with $20,000, and a boat, and 20 acres of sea area to put in a farm."

“It’s low-tech, and you can grow mussels, kelp and clams, and protect the shoreline from erosion and heavy storms at the same time,” he said. “You don’t see anything on the ocean surface.” He encouraged the city to explore such options to make Belfast “an attractive and sustainable community.”

In his presentation, City Planner Marshall said the city “does not have the right to make a decision on (the pipe route); this is the Bureau of Public Lands’ decision. I don’t know if the allegations made by Upstream Watch are on target or not on target.” It’s up to the state, he reiterated.

Marshall did, however, discuss some opposition comments sent to the Bureau of Parks and Lands that he said contained factual errors relating to city zoning regulations, which he believed required city clarification.

He cited a comment that Nordic Aquafarms has no right to locate its intake or discharge pipes under, over or in the Route 1 right of way. Not so, Marshall said.

That section of Route 1 lies in an urban compact zone that starts at the Northport line and runs to Passagassawakeg River bridge, and then from the bridge to Goose River, where such installation is permitted. Nordic has paid $98,000 to restore the roadway after construction, in return for a permit for a conditional road opening. The city issued a permit as well for a possible sewer line on Perkins Road.

Second, Marshall said comments to the bureau stated that the pipe route crosses a residential zone (R2) and pipe installation is prohibited in an R2 zone. He clarified that intake and discharge pipes are allowed in a Residential 2 zone, per amendments adopted by City Council Oct. 16, 2018.

Third, Marshall said comments claimed the pipes were too close to the 50-foot side lot line between the Eckrotes and a property owner to the south. Marshall said the side setback in the Residential 2 zone is 15 feet, not 50 feet. “More importantly, this city has never required any buried infrastructure to meet a setback,” he said. If it did, the city “would never have” buried sewer or utility lines. “I don’t believe the setback applies at all,” he said.

With regard to filing these comments with the bureau, Marshall added, “It’s appropriate for the city to make these clarifications ― this is what our regulations say.”

Joanne Moesswilde reported that the Bureau of Parks and Lands asked for Harbor Committee comments as to whether the proposed pipes unreasonably interfere with customary or traditional public access ways, or with fishing or other existing marine uses of area; whether the pipes would unreasonably diminish availability of services and facilities necessary for commercial marine activities; and whether they would interfere with ingress and egress of riparian owners.

Dan Miller offered committee recommendations on the first three areas, suggesting the route and pipe end points be marked with buoys as hazards to navigation, anchoring and fishing. He expressed committee concerns about possibly disturbing mercury during pipe installation and recommended further research as well as testing during the pipe installation to monitor mercury levels.

Finally, he cited concerns that pipe discharge would affect water temperatures in the area and again recommended further research. The committee had no recommendations with respect to riparian owners’ ingress and egress.

After some discussion, councilors agreed it would be appropriate for the city to pass along zoning clarifications for the benefit of state staff staff members who are not familiar with Belfast city ordinances, as well as passing along the Harbor Committee’s recommendations.

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