The Board of Environmental Protection today accepted jurisdiction over Nordic Aquafarms’ state applications and agreed to host public hearings at a later date.

The seven-member board consists of citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature “to provide, informed, independent and timely decisions on the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the laws relating to environmental protection and to provide for credible, fair and responsible public participation in department decisions.” It is part of the Department of Environmental Protection, but has independent decision-making authority.

During the meeting at Augusta Civic Center, BEP Executive Analyst Cynthia Bertocci presented an overview of Nordic’s plans to construct a land-based salmon farm, with intake and discharge pipes in Belfast Bay, on a 54-acre site in the city near the Northport line. She recommended board members tackle the public hearings for the applications in three stages. Applications being considered include Site Location of Development (SLODA), Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA), Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/Waste Discharge License (MEPDES) and Minor Source Air Emissions permits.

Bertocci noted several board members must be excused from specific aspects of the applications based on conflicts. All seven members will participate in addressing the SLODA and NRPA and a reduced board will take on the MEPDES and air emissions permit.

The next step, she said, is to post public notices seeking people who wish to have intervenor status.

“In this case, there’s been significant involvement at the local level,” Bertocci noted.

The board also will decide on granting intervenor status to those who apply.

Board member James Parker expressed concern that a map submitted as part of the meeting materials meant to show municipal boundaries is unclear. Bertocci provided a larger map on which the lines are clearer.

“I still question that boundary line,” Parker said. “It shouldn’t be a guess.”

Fellow board member Robert Duchesne argued that the impacts of the project stretch to neighboring Northport and beyond, even if the boundary lines are not crossed. DEP Commissioner Jerry Reid noted all parties involved – including Nordic and opponents Upstream Watch and Maine Lobstering Union – agree the intake pipe extends into Northport in the bay.

“It may be the last time we see these parties agree on anything,” he said.

Parker, a commercial lobsterman, questioned if he should recuse himself. Assistant Attorney General Peggy Bensinger responded, “It’s up to you to determine if you have a conflict of interest.” She then called for a break in the meeting to speak privately with Parker. Upon re-opening the meeting, Parker did not make a statement or recuse himself from the Nordic proceedings.

Bertocci said she anticipates hearings on the permit applications to take place over successive days, with the previously identified board members attending the appropriate sessions. Bensinger added that department staff has a significant amount of work to complete in going over the Nordic applications, so “it will probably be a while before hearings.”

Present for the meeting were representatives of both Nordic and Upstream Watch. In November 2018, Upstream Watch and MLU, through attorney Kim Ervin Tucker, both requested that BEP assume jurisdiction of the MEPDES application and later amended the request to include all Nordic applications. As well, Nordic, through its counsel Joanna Tourangeau, requested BEP review its applications. Commissioner Reid also made the same request, meaning BEP members by statute are required accept jurisdiction.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Cynthia Bertocci.

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