Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued draft permit decisions for Nordic Aquafarms’ applications to build a land-based fish farm next to the Little River in Belfast for the Board of Environmental Protection to review.

The company is still waiting on an application decision from the Army Corps of Engineers and Belfast Planning Board, but is revving up its public engagement as decisions draw near.

The three DEP draft permit decisions, released between July and September, find that Nordic meets Maine environmental standards and issue conditions and standards for final permit approval.

Air emissions

Air emissions are not expected to exceed thresholds for a minor emissions source license, according to DEP, but it proposed a condition that allows the department access to test the equipment during normal business hours or whenever emissions units are in use. The only air pollution sources it identified are eight large diesel generators meant to power some facility processes instead of relying solely on the electrical power grid, a practice known as peak shaving.

Opposition groups Maine Lobstering Union, Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area and Upstream Watch have criticized BEP and DEP for not considering other project air pollution sources, like fish tank operations and building heat sources. The groups also argue that construction equipment should be considered a source of air pollution.

DEP proposes requiring that Nordic hire a third-party inspector during development of the project. Any changes to the site location standard conditions will have to be reviewed by  BEP. Nordic cannot sell, lease or transfer the development permits without BEP approval.


The effluent — fish waste released into the bay through outtake pipes — will remain below legal standards, according to DEP findings in the Maine pollutant discharge elimination system permit and waste discharge license applications.

It found Nordic’s nitrogen levels, at 23 mg/L, will exceed the state standard of 21 mg/L or less by 2 mg/L.

The draft permit states that Nordic’s nitrogen limits must stay at or below 21 mg/L, but does not require Nordic to provide nitrogen recalculations to prove it can function below the threshold. Project opponents have expressed concern that too much nitrogen released into that area could create algal blooms that would negatively affect the area’s ecosystem.

Project Manager Ed Cotter said the company has advanced its design since beginning the permitting process and he is confident that the facility will be able to function below 21 mg/L nitrogen levels. “We have higher confidence in our numbers now and we are comfortable that the proposed discharge is achievable,” he wrote in an email to The Republican Journal.

The temperature increase in the winter will be 3 degrees Fahrenheit and the increase in the summer will be 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit; both figures are just below the DEP thresholds at 4 degrees Fahrenheit and 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.

Project intervenors Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace and the Maine Lobstering Union argue the figures used in DEP's calculations are surface temperatures, but it should use the temperatures at the depth of the pipe, which could increase the temperature change significantly.

BEP dismissed this assertion and affirmed DEP’s findings because it said the warmer discharge will rise to the top, having minimal effects on the water temperature at pipe depth.

The draft permits propose that Nordic conduct a dye test to determine water dilution rates from the pipe once the facility is operational.

SAP results

Opponents have been vocal about possible buried mercury in the area Nordic is proposing to put its pipes, but the company’s recent sample and analysis plan results required for its Army Corps of Engineers application found low levels of mercury.

All of the 10 samples tested were below 0.5 parts per million, the state’s mercury threshold, with the highest being 0.245 parts per million. Paul Bernacki, an opponent of the project, prevented the company from taking one sample closest to the shoreline, according to Cotter.

Attorney Kim Ervin Tucker had requested that her clients Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, who claim they own the intertidal land Nordic wants to run its pipes across, be notified about Nordic’s contracted sediment tester Aqua Survey’s sediment collection beforehand, but said they did not interfere with the collection. Instead they called the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office and Belfast Police Department to observe the July 21 event.

The New Jersey-based sediment testing company told Bernacki it could not take the first sediment sample because there was not enough water over the intertidal area at that time, Tucker wrote in an email to the Army Corps of Engineers, which she forwarded to The Republican Journal.

Bernacki had asked the company not to collect samples on the intertidal land the next day, July 22, because it had not received permission to do so from Mabee and Grace, who he believes historic deeds prove own the intertidal land, and the land was in legal dispute, he said. He told Aqua Survey that Nordic does not have documented proof of rights to the area. The company then decided not to finish collecting the intertidal zone sample.

Peter Tischbein of the Army Corps said the administration is still evaluating the results to make sure the samples were taken and analyzed exactly according to the methods it has established.

Upstream Watch President Amy Grant said the group is looking forward to learning the Army Corps' determination about the testing merits.

The results will probably determine if accommodations must be made for endangered species in the area, Tischbein said. The Army Corps still has to work with the National Marine Fishery Service to evaluate other project details, like effluent and fish escape prevention plans.

Moving forward

As the BEP permitting process wraps up for Nordic, the company is ramping up its public presence. It released videos discussing aquaculture and the benefits its two U.S. facilities will provide for the industry and sustainable land-based fish farming. It also intends to release promotional and informational videos on local Maine broadcasting stations, according to Nordic spokesperson Marianne Naess.

The company recently acquired majority shares in two Danish land-based yellowtail kingfish farms, according to Naess. Profits from the shares are not expected to be used to fund Nordic’s projects in Maine and California. She said Nordic will use equity and funds from investors to build its U.S. projects.

Opposition groups have returned to the corner of High and Main streets in Belfast, dubbed "Resistance Corner," to protest the project as the Belfast Planning Board enters its second and final phase in evaluating the project. A decision on the local permits could come as soon as early November.

The board will meet every Wednesday at 6 p.m. until Nov. 4, when it is expected to make a decision on the permits. A public hearing about the permits will be held Thursday, Oct. 8 by webinar at