Only two intervenors and seven members of the public commented at the Belfast Planning Board's last public hearing Oct. 7 and 8 on five Nordic Aquafarms permit applications — a seemingly anticlimactic ending to a more than 12-month-long city permit process for Nordic's proposed land-based fish farm.

Previous board meetings had drawn dozens of fish farm opponents to the University of Maine Hutchinson Center. The city did receive 25 written comments (the board's preferred method for commenting) in conjunction with the two virtual sessions last week.

The Planning Board entered phase two of the application review process in July, which determined that permit materials were complete to review. Now, it must look at the application and decide if the company has met the city’s code criteria.

One of the primary concerns intervenor group Upstream Watch expressed was unknown issues involving the Little River dams. Much of attorney David Losee’s testimony focused on how much water the fish farm would use.

Nordic is proposing to use fresh water from its wells, Belfast Water District and the Little River. Losee said one well already showed signs of saltwater intrusion. He suggested that Nordic should pay for capital improvements to the Water District if it will be using a large amount of city water.

Upstream Watch had the two Little River dams inspected by specialized engineers who found that the upper dam was a danger to people and needed significant improvements or to be removed, he said. The lower dam is in better repair, but is at risk of being washed away if the upper dam gives way because of a weather event.

He said it would cost $1 million to restore the upper dam, and about the same amount to remove it. He would like to see the city work with Nordic to address issues with the dam and restore the Little River.

He then took issue with the results of a sample and analysis plan the Army Corps of Engineers ordered. He said the testing level base was set to 0.01 ppm of mercury, which will only pick up results above that amount. But Nordic reported readings as low as 0.005 ppm, which Lucee said is impossible if a base level was set at 0.01 ppm.

Nordic’s SAP results affirmed the company's stance that there is no significant mercury in the area where it is proposing to place buried pipelines. The highest result, at 0.245 ppm, is still just half the mercury threshold of 0.5 ppm, according to Project Manager Ed Cotter. The Army Corps is still analyzing Nordic’s methodology to verify that testing was done to criteria in the SAP.

Seven Upstream members went through all of the previous board meeting videos and found 93 unaddressed requests made to Nordic, Losee said, though he acknowledged that some of the requests might have been fulfilled outside of public board meetings.

Acting Chairman Declan O’Connor said the board would look through the list and consider any unanswered requests. City attorney Bill Kelly encouraged board members to go over the list, but said many of the requests have “evolved” and not to “recreate the wheel” when looking over previous requests.

Intervenor Ellie Daniels said her property value has decreased and she has been unable to sell the house she built in 2015 adjacent to the proposed fish farm. She said Nordic has not discussed possible vegetative buffers between her property and its own since before the permitting process.

She requested that the board require Nordic to plant three or four rows of vegetation on her property as a “protection” against the facility. Codes and Planning Consultant Wayne Marshall said both parties must be open to discussions, to which Daniels replied that she is open to the conversation with Nordic. Cotter said the company had to step away from buffer discussions with Daniels because of a pending lawsuit.

Many members of the public who spoke at the second day hearing said they felt the board was seriously considering the merits of the application. Andrew Stevenson said he would like to see the board foster proactive developments, consider the project only after sufficient proof of financial capability and look beyond permit requirements to future consequences of the project.

One Bayside resident requested more information about the company’s financial capacity. He said the board should request information about how much ownership of the facility Nordic will have.

He criticized the company’s decision to become a Delaware-based corporation in the U.S., and said the action might have been taken because that state gives more personal liability protections and has no state income taxes. He said Delaware has a type of litigation process that does not require a jury, which could put the state of Maine at risk of an unfair trial should legal grievances be filed.

Other speakers discussed the option of a closed recirculating aquaculture system instead of a system that requires intake and outfall pipes so there is no waste being expelled into the bay. Cotter said closed RAS technology without intake or outfall pipes is not scalable to Nordic’s project size at this time.

The board will meet every Wednesday until Nov. 4 to consider the application and possible conditions for approval if the company meets all code criteria, which could result in a decision on the permits that evening.