Maine Board of Environmental Protection held a deliberative session May 20 to discuss whether aspects of Nordic Aquafarms’ land-based fish farm application meet the board’s standards. It focused heavily on aspects required under the National Resource Protection Act.

Nordic TRI complaint filed with Waldo County court

Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, intervenors in the approval process for Nordic Aquafarms’ proposed land-based fish farm, filed a complaint in Waldo County Superior Court May 15 against the company and the Board of Environmental Protection regarding BEP's decision not to dismiss the company's proof of title, right and interest over intertidal land where it intends to place its intake and discharge pipes.

Mabee and Grace claim historic deeds prove that they own the intertidal land in front of several coastal properties north of their house, including in front of the home of Janet and Richard Eckrote, with whom Nordic has entered into an easement for its pipe installation into the bay.

Board members previously dismissed Mabee and Grace’s motion to dismiss title, right and interest last month because they said only a court of law can decide who owns the disputed land. But the couple claim their motion to dismiss was regarding the lack of proof of rights to the land in its submitted documentation, not about deciding who owns the land.

The board requested that Maine Department of Environmental Protection staff draft a number of standard recommendations to help the board consider the application’s merits. No formal action or vote was taken at the meeting.

Some of the discussion concerned Nordic’s filtration system, which has been upgraded since its initial site plan was released in spring 2018, according to Nordic spokesperson Marianne Naess. Board members and DEP staff discussed scenarios resulting in higher-than-expected nitrogen levels being released and the impact that could have on the bay.

Nordic has maintained in many meetings pertaining to its application that its filtration system is one of the best in the industry, and will filter 99% of project waste. Company officials have expressed confidence that it can comply with all wastewater criteria established by the board.

“Belfast residents can appreciate that our nitrogen discharge figures include large safety margins,” Nordic President Eric Heim said in a May 21 Facebook post. “We have no issues with a small adjustment from the DEP. There is still no one else in the RAS (recirculation aquaculture system) industry with the removal rates we invest in — the technology is available to those who chose to prioritize protection of receiving waters.”

DEP staff informed the board of potential requirements it can attach to the permits, like further mercury testing along the proposed pipe route and testing of dredged material during excavation.

After the meeting, Kim Ervin Tucker, attorney for intervenors Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, renewed a motion to hold any further application review because, she said, Nordic does not address a Clean Water Act and Natural Resources Protection Act procedural requirement.

The motion states that any application for dredge disposals on land where dewatering is required must include testing the material in a manner established by the DEP commissioner, post notice of the proposed transportation route for waste in a local publication and submit the application to any municipality affected before the BEP can consider the permits.

At a Maine Department of Marine Resources public hearing in March, the company released its method for discarding dredged material that it will not reuse. It will haul 20,000 cubic yards of the material across Searsport Bay to Mack Point in several trips, where it will be stored until it is transported to an onshore disposal site.

Tucker maintains that Nordic has no established plan for testing the dredged material and has not posted any public notice for the transportation and disposal methods of dredged material.

Press release kerfuffle

After the board discussion, Nordic issued a press release stating its positive outlook on the proceedings. The company stated in the release, “The DEP staff has been directed to issue draft permits and we expect that they will be issued in the near future.”

This wording created confusion for some who had listened to the teleconference meeting. BEP Executive Analyst Cynthia Bertocci was quick to respond by email, stating that the board had taken no formal action, that the meeting was only to discuss the application and licensing criteria and that DEP staff had not been ordered to issue draft permits.

In an email responding to the confusion, Naess denied that the company’s press release made statements implying that the board took formal action on its application. She said the press release stated that Nordic is looking forward to draft permits being issued.

DEP staff will draft recommendations about the application to the board to be presented at a future meeting as part of the evaluation process. The application must meet all board criteria before draft permits are considered, Bertocci said.