The state Board of Environmental Protection made several significant decisions this week that indirectly affect Nordic Aquafarms.

Board Chairman Mark Draper said the board will not entertain a petition to dismiss the permit applications based on competing claims of title, right and interest. The request was made by abutters Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, who claim ownership of the intertidal lands Nordic hopes to cross with its intake and discharge pipes. Draper wrote a letter to Nordic attorney Joanna Tourangeau July 27 explaining the reasoning behind the decision, which was handed out Thursday at a board meeting at Augusta Civic Center where Draper was not present.

“The scope of the board’s eventual hearing on Nordic’s applications, and whether the hearing topics may touch on TRI in any way, has not been determined,” Draper wrote.

Acting Board Chairman Robert Duchesne said Thursday he understood the petition to be a request to return Nordic’s applications, which already have been accepted by Maine Department of Environmental Protection and over which BEP has assumed jurisdiction. Duchesne said the applications will not be returned.

The board will rule on four state-level permits for the proposed land-based salmon farm in Belfast: 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.

After considering additional evidence, on Thursday the board denied two of 11 applications for intervenor status on Nordic Aquafarms’ permits.

As part of the hearing process, individuals and groups with intervenor status can provide testimony, rebuttals and witnesses addressing the information in Nordic’s permit applications. Intervenors typically are “substantially and directly” affected by a project, though the board does has some discretionary authority to grant intervenor status.

Approved this week were Upstream Watch, Maine Lobstering Union and Wayne Canning and David Black, Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, and Ellie Daniels and Donna Broderick, all of whom are opposed to the project and also were granted intervenor status by Belfast Planning Board on Nordic’s city applications.

In addition, opponent Lawrence Reichard, University of New England, supporters' group The Fish are Okay!, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and Northport Village Corp. were also approved as intervenors. Gulf of Maine Research Institute was accepted at the board’s discretion. Northport Village Corp., as a municipal entity, received automatic status.

The applications from UNE and The Fish are Okay! were discussed in greater depth after staff recommendations shifted. Initially, staff deemed the application from UNE insufficient to meet intervenor status. However, the university provided additional information about its marine programs, including a small-scale recirculating aquaculture system that’s been in operation for nearly a decade. Using its discretionary authority, the board accepted UNE as an intervenor.

Board member Rob Sanford disclosed that his wife works for the university, though he noted she works on a satellite campus and is not affiliated with the marine programs. He said he did not think her employment would bias his decision on Nordic’s applications.

James Parker, a fisherman and member of the board, said he expects “UNE’s expertise will be valuable to us.”

Changes in The Fish are Okay! membership did not alter the initial recommendation to approve the group’s intervenor status, but clarifications were sought. Member Jacqueline Cassida asked to be removed from the group, citing a job offer from Nordic as a conflict. Because she is a direct neighbor, the staff then reversed its positive recommendation. Anne Saggese, speaking on behalf of The Fish are Okay!, noted there are several other abutters to the project who are members of the group and that application also was approved.

Each applicant, or group representative, was given a chance to speak to the board.

Intervenor applications from Trudy Miller and School of Fish, as well as Maine & Co. were denied. Kevin Martin of the Attorney General’s Office said the economic impacts — Maine & Co. describes itself on its website as a “private, nonprofit corporation with members and a board comprised of senior executives from Maine’s top businesses, the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic & Community Development” — are important but the application did not meet the criteria to be considered an intervenor. Assistant Attorney General Peggy Bensinger noted the board can’t consider the impact on jobs, only the environmental criteria.

Maine & Co. President Peter DelGrecco, during a break in proceedings, said his company has been working with Nordic for nearly two years as it tries to establish itself in the United States.

“We may have useful info as you move forward, regardless of our status,” DelGrecco offered to the board.

School of Fish also did not meet the criteria, and no members were present to argue the group’s case.

Speaking about hearing procedures, Bensinger confirmed the board can hire its own experts to help interpret the extensive documents.

During a pre-hearing conference, Acting Chairman Duchesne noted the anticipated schedule for a site walk of the Nordic property, which is tentatively planned for Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Hearings on the applications will not take place until after the site walk and could happen sometime in November or December. Those with intervenor status will present their cases during the daytime portion of the hearings, while the general public will be invited to speak in the evening portions of the hearings, which will take place at a local venue to be determined.


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