Planning Board members got their first official look last week at the properties on which Nordic Aquafarms hopes to develop a large land-based salmon farm.

The tour, which also included city staff, media and a few members of the public, walked the properties under contract to Nordic that are currently owned by Belfast Water District, the Cassidas and the Eckrotes. The terrain varies from open fields, to woods, to wetlands, to steep ravines.

Nordic officials led the two-hour tour, which was punctuated by frequent stops to point out on a map the group's location on the properties. Nordic Project Director Ed Cotter and Elizabeth Ransom of Ransom Consulting narrated much of the site walk and pointed out various landscape features and anticipated building locations. Passing a test well, Ransom noted most of the water for the facility will come from three wells on the front of the property, near Route 1.

Belfast Water District Superintendent Keith Pooler, in response to a question from a member of the public, noted the city’s aquifer “is 10 miles that way” — pointing toward East Belfast — “the opposite side of the city.”

There are well-monitoring agreements in place with neighboring property owners and Ransom said the company also will track the levels of streams and rivers once the facility is up and running.

Numerous streams cross the Nordic property, including “stream 9,” which will serve as the main stormwater route to the ocean, according to Ransom. She said runoff from roof drains and impervious surfaces will be treated but runoff from foundation drains will not. Most of the larger buildings are designed to have “green” roofs, which are flat roofs with plantings that help filter rainwater.

Standing near Route 1, Cotter pointed out stakes where a planned road bypass will begin and end. The bypass — on Nordic property — will be used for two-way traffic though the area for about eight weeks while Route 1 is dug up to place intake and discharge pipes, he said. Existing utility poles will be worked around or temporarily relocated, according to Cotter.

Across the road from the facility, on the Eckrote property, the underground pipes will continue out into the bay. Cotter said coffer dams will be used in the shallower parts of the bay to install the pipes; then the construction company will switch to a large barge and crane for deeper water. He noted existing erosion on the Eckrote property that will be remedied, as well as an outbuilding that will be removed.

The following evening, Planning Board members met again for an organizational meeting to lay out how the lengthy Nordic application will proceed through the city permitting process. Declan O’Connor is serving as temporary chairman because Steve Ryan recused himself from the Nordic review.

Planning Board members voted to designate Geoff Gilchrist as the alternate chairman in case O’Connor is not able to attend a meeting. One Planning Board alternate will vote on the application, but both — Daisy Beal and Hugh Townsend — must attend all meetings.

The non-voting alternate may be called on to vote if a Planning Board member is disqualified based on conflict of interest. In addition to O'Connor and Gilchrist, Wayne Corey and David Bond will participate in the review. City Attorney Bill Kelly outlined rules for self-reporting or if a member of the public accuses a board member of having a conflict.

“It’s fact-based, not opinion,” Kelly said, adding the other members of board determine if the allegations are enough to recuse a member. An alternate would then become a voting member for the rest of the application. “Be quite careful. Everything you say and do is going to be on parade.”

He said at least three members are needed for a quorum.

Kelly said bias could come in a variety of forms, from actively participating with interest groups, public statements reported in the media, or tangential interests such as a relative working for a Nordic supplier.

“It can get pretty broad in terms of the possibilities,” he said.

The attorney also cautioned Planning Board members not to conduct research on their own. As far as email communications, he advised, “Don’t.” Kelly said email is fine to request missing documents or report meeting date conflicts, and said even those communications should go through Director of Codes and Planning Wayne Marshall.

Board members decided emailed copies of public comment would be followed at meetings by hard copies.

“Public comment is important,” O’Connor said. “I prefer hard copies.”

Speaking to public comment, Marshall noted each meeting will tackle specific parts of the application.

“The public hearings will be topic-specific,” he said. “In this case, to try to help you and help the public and benefit the applicant.”

Kelly suggested an additional general public hearing for new information as the board approaches its final review.

Marshall said he planned to announce on Tuesday, July 16, that the Planning Office will be closed one day per week to give staff time to collect information and prepare for the meetings addressing the Nordic application.

“We understand the important thing is getting the information to the public and to the board,” he said.

It is the Planning Board’s duty to implement rulings from the Board of Environmental Protection, Marshall said, adding parts of the city application are tied to the state-level applications being reviewed by BEP.

Other decisions are specific to the board, even when tied to the state application. For example, Marshall said, BEP will address the discharge permit at the state level, while the Planning Board will look at the location and placement of the pipes only. BEP has accepted jurisdiction over the permit from Maine Department of Environmental Protection and will make all state-level rulings on the requested permits.

“This project does qualify as having a significant impact on the environment and that goes back to DEP,” he said. “DEP is going to need to act before you’re able to make a final decision.”

Marshall said Nordic is paying for experts to testify on behalf of the city, as well as paying Kelly’s fees.

“There’s a substantial request of funds the city made to have Bill Kelly here,” Marshall said.

Kelly later added, “I represent the board.”

Board members and city staff also talked about meeting procedure during public hearings. Marshall referred back to a prior meeting during which a speaker said another speaker granted him extra time they didn’t use but refused to step away from the microphone when asked by then-acting Chairman Margot Carpenter.

“I’m hoping that doesn’t occur, but Bill (Kelly) and I talked about it,” Marshall said. He suggested speakers be given a warning, a second warning and “a very stern warning” before being removed from the hearing by police. “I believe that people need to understand up front that it is an opportunity to present facts.”

Another factor to consider are parties of interest, or those “standing” — who will be directly impacted by the project. Anyone who wished to be considered a party of interest must notify Marshall seven days in advance of the first meeting on the Nordic application, which is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 5. During that meeting, board members will make a ruling on whether an application has standing to be considered a party in interest. Guidelines will be published as a legal advertisement starting this week.

“I don’t think you should have a strict, hard line when deciding,” Kelly said, later adding, “Consider the value of more information than less.”

“I think we create a larger umbrella rather than trying to shrink it,” O’Connor said.

At the Aug. 5 meeting, the board is scheduled to address title, right and interest, as well as financial and technical capacity. As of July 16, no location for the meeting has been determined.

Kelly said he expects little discussion of TRI.

“I don’t think you need person after person speaking; the attorneys did a good job,” he said. “ … You’ll decide yes or no on if you have jurisdiction (over the application).”

Marshall noted it is the city’s position that the project “does not cross (the) municipal boundary” with Northport, though it will have an impact on the neighboring town.

Upcoming Planning Board meetings on the Nordic application have been set for Monday, Aug. 19, and Monday, Aug. 26 at UMaine Hutchinson Center. Topics for those meetings will be determined during a regular Planning Board meeting Wednesday, July 24.




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