Justice Robert E. Murray granted a summary judgment in favor of the city in a lawsuit filed against it in July 2018 by Ellie Daniels and Donna Broderick, who are abutters to the proposed Nordic Aquafarms land-based fish farm property.

The couple claimed the city didn’t take proper measures when changing the zoning ordinance to allow Nordic to build its facility in a residential district.

On July 10, Murray found that the city properly amended the future land use planning section of the Comprehensive Plan on April 17, 2018, to allow commercial development.

There were fewer than four months of public input from when the city announced the proposed zoning changes in January 2018 to when the City Council voted on the changes in April 2018.

The lawsuit claimed that the city considered the zoning changes before amending the Comprehensive Plan. Changes to the Comprehensive Plan require adequate opportunity for public input on the matter, according to the Maine Legislature website.

The city went back to review and change the Comprehensive Plan before adopting the zoning changes on Oct. 16, 2018.

Daniels and Broderick have been vocal members of the group Local Citizens for SMART Growth, which was organized in opposition to the zoning changes adopted by the council. The group has a loyal following in the Belfast community and 393 people “liking” the group on Facebook.

Its following has accounted for about $17,000 in local donations to the lawsuit against the city, with another $17,000 coming from grants and donations from various organizations like Food and Water Watch, Daniels told The Republican Journal July 10.

The funding covers legal fees, promotional items and other matters related to the lawsuit, she said.

City Manager Joe Slocum approximated that the city spent about $80,000 so far in relation to the lawsuit filed against it by Daniels and Broderick.

Belfast City Attorney Bill Kelly said Tuesday morning that he is pleased with the outcome of the litigation and feels Murray is justified in his verdict. He said he thinks the reasoning the judge used will stand up to a review, if it is appealed to a higher court.

The attorney said he thinks all sides were adequately considered in this case because of how much paperwork was submitted to the court, including a 1,500-page document from the city that included public comments, videos and town ordinances, both old and new.

“The beauty of processing this case that way is that we got extensive information in front of the judge,” Kelly said.

In a press release July 12, the city said it "received some very welcome news regarding a year-long lawsuit that had been filed by abutters of a property that is the home for a proposed land-based aquaculture facility."

Belfast Director of Code and Planning Wayne Marshall said, “The city of Belfast is pleased with the outcome of this case and extremely appreciative for the swift and efficient manner in which it was reviewed and acted upon by Justice Murray.  With this matter now resolved, all parties can now more confidently move forward with local, state, and federal permit application requirements.”

Nordic released a statement July 13, affirming its support for the court's decision. It was described as clearing an important milestone for the project.

“Nordic Aquafarms has remained confident that the court would rule in favor of the city, but the ruling came quicker than expected,” Commercial Director Marianne Naess said in the statement. “We remain confident that the project will move forward and that we have a solid legal position.”

Daniels and Local Citizens for SMART Growth issued an email statement Monday that focused on the positive impact the lawsuit had on the community but have not stated whether they will pursue further legal action.

“We consider the lawsuit to have achieved our No. 1 objective, which was to slow down the process long enough for the public to have a chance to get informed and to allow any other challengers to the project to get organized,” Daniels wrote.

“We also are glad to have this step behind us because it allows us to put our focus on our larger objectives, which are to continue to educate and advocate for environmentally sustainable local development; to work to remove dams and help protect wild Atlantic salmon and other wild fish; and to make sure that local citizen voice is broadly represented in our city governance.”


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