Groundwater use proved the most controversial topic Monday night as the city Planning Board took up the freshwater portion of Nordic Aquafarms’ application.

The company plans to build a land-based salmon farm just off Route 1 near the Belfast/Northport line. It hopes to use three difference sources of freshwater to raise salmon from eggs to market-size — its own drilled wells on the property, surface water pumped from Little River reservoir and water purchased from Belfast Water District.

Nordic Aquafarms Project Manager Ed Cotter said the project was designed based on how much water the local district is willing to provide. He noted the district also has a priority list in case of low water supplies, and that Nordic would be one of the first industries impacted.

“It anybody’s concerned about what our impacts are,” he said, “ … this is really the order that’s going to prevent that happening.”

Should the company have to limit its use of water supplied by the district, Cotter said, it plans to make adjustments to sources and/or salinity.

“We have a plan here that helps us balance and optimize (water use),” he said.

Others working for Nordic echoed Cotter, including Thomas Neilson of Ransom Consulting and Dr. Michael Mobile of McDonald Morrissey Associates.

“The primary goal is to build resiliency,” Neilson said. “That’s the overarching theme with the three sources.”

Mobile spoke to extensive testing of the wells on the property and said there is expected to be little impact on nearby private wells. Part of the company’s plans will include regular monitoring of wells within 1,000 feet of the facility, as required by city ordinance, and “up to 15 wells are or will be included,” according to a fact sheet handed out at the meeting by Nordic Community Liaison Jackie Cassida. Neilson said the wells are between 1,000 and 5,000 feet from the site.

No wells on Perkins Road would be monitored because all homes on that road are connected to the Water District. Several Nordic representatives assured board members that steps will be taken to ensure area residents have access to good water, up to and including drilling new wells or connecting residents to city water if Nordic’s activities are found to be the cause of private well problems.

Elizabeth Ransom with Ransom Consulting said, “Water quality is important to Nordic, too.”

She noted the company drilled a variety of depths for test wells and found that deeper wells did not create a significant improvement in performance because of the type of aquifer in the Little River Watershed.

Belfast Water District draws its water from a separate and different type of aquifer — Goose River Watershed — located six miles northeast of Nordic’s proposed facility. Superintendent Keith Pooler said in his 28 years with the Water District, he’s never asked anyone to ration water. Recent talk of poor water quality decades ago, he said, can be blamed on some residents receiving water directly from the Little River.

“I think with the poultry plants using water … customers got Little River water that’s a lower quality than (city) wells,” he said. “… (Some) people waited until night so they could get water from the wells, not Little River.”

Pooler said the Goose River Watershed gains much of its “recharge” from rainwater because of of the type of soil. He said the offer made to Nordic for 500 gallons per minute (256 million gallons per year) was based on a dry year and still being able to supply city residences and businesses.

Cotter said even if the company were shut off from Water District supplies because of extreme circumstances, he anticipates being able to remain in operation indefinitely, though it would reduce efficiency in growing the salmon.

At one point, a member of the audience broke in and tried to comment as Nordic officials were answering questions from the Planning Board. Chairman Declan O’Connor asked him to “just let the process work” and make his comments when the public hearing opened.

Planning Board members also expressed concern about how future development and industry in the city could be impacted by Nordic’s high water use. Cotter noted that a typical residence might use 10 gallons per minute. He said that with new home construction, city officials encourage connection to city water.

Planning Board alternate member Hugh Townsend asked about using more water from the Little River reservoir but Cotter said the quality of the water “is not ideal” for the company’s purposes. The size of the treatment plant dictates how much surface water can be treated as well, he said.

“It looks good going over the dam but, at some point, that’s wasted water,” Townsend said.

Cotter also pointed out that Nordic’s water use is expected to be consistent.

“This will be a 24/7 operation not impacted by time of day,” he said, adding there could be peaks depending on the production schedule. “…The system design is not based on our needs, it’s based on what’s available.”

Speaking as an expert witness for the Planning Board, Matt Reynolds of Drumlin Environmental LLC said he has a few concerns with Nordic's plans.

“But, overall, the work that’s been done by Nordic is detailed and appropriate,” he said.

Reynolds said he is concerned about the unknown impact on private wells once the company is up and running and encouraged the city to be sure there are remediation plans in place. As well, one well on the site has a fairly shallow fracture at 130 feet — water enters the wells through fractures in bedrock — that has the potential to make that well draw down faster. Other locations on the site might offer a more consistent water supply, he said, but the company chose not to use those locations because of proximity to neighboring private wells.

“There’s some potential for changes and impacts to residential wells,” he said, later adding, “But I don’t anticipate a significant change in water availability.”

On behalf of Upstream Watch, a group of neighbors, John Krueger said he is concerned about the condition of the two dams on the Little River. He also expressed concerns about saltwater intrusion and the possible use of firefighting chemicals at nearby Belfast Municipal Airport. Ellie Daniels, who owns property on Perkins Road abutting Nordic but currently lives in Searsmont, said she is concerned about the increasing gallons of water requested by the company and spoke about climate change and its effect on water supplies worldwide.

“I just continue to be confused and distressed,” she said. Daniels read from a document provided to Maine Public Utilities Commission, which approved the agreement between Nordic and Belfast Water District, that states there is “no specific contractual curtailment” of water to Nordic in the first six years, despite the priority list.

In addition to a handful of others offering verbal comment, a half-dozen people also submitted written comments to the Planning Board about the company’s proposed freshwater use. The board discussion is expected to resume at the next meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 9; however, the agenda has not yet been set.

Agendas for all Planning Board meetings are posted on the city website.

 

 

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