The Board of Environmental Protection requested minimal changes to the three draft permits the Department of Environmental Protection issued for Nordic Aquafarms’ proposed land-based fish farm before voting to approve them all.

The minor source air emissions license, Maine pollution discharge elimination system permit and waste discharge license, and site location of development and Natural Resources Protection Act permit approvals bring Nordic one step closer to breaking ground on its development after facing over two years of opposition.

There were two primary changes to the NRPA permit that require Nordic to monitor neighboring wells and resolve issues with wells that are adversely affected by the project. Also added was a requirement for Nordic to submit an emergency response plan to the department for unforeseen issues that result in a large-scale fish die-off.

Board member Susan Lessard was concerned that the 38 conditions on the NRPA permit would be too much for the department to handle and might place an increased burden on intervenors who want to appeal the board’s decision. She also expressed concern that it might be too much for the department to monitor.

But department staffer Nick Livesay said that he is confident the department can monitor all permit conditions. He added that he believes Nordic’s operations will work the way they are being proposed, and said the conditions are like “suspenders being added to the belt.”

In their closing arguments, intervenors urged the board to send the applications back to Nordic for more testing instead of making testing a condition of the permits. Upstream Watch member Mike Lannan said not requiring certain testing before permit issuance puts an undue legal burden on intervenors to dispute items the department is disregarding in the permitting process.

Attorney Kim Ervin Tucker, representing intervenors Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, became heated when Assistant Attorney General Peggy Bensinger would not allow her to discuss court proceedings and intervenor concerns regarding the disputed title, right and interest of the intertidal area where Nordic proposes to install its 3,700-foot-long outfall pipes.

Still pending is a court case between Mabee and Grace and neighbors Janet and Richard Eckrote. The Eckrotes have granted an easement to Nordic to use the intertidal area in front of their property for its pipes. Mabee and Grace claim historic deeds prove they own that portion of the intertidal zone.

Aquaculture scientist Barry Costa-Pierce from University of New England endorsed the project and commended Nordic’s predictive models and proposed technology.

Nordic President Eric Heim said he had submitted more documentation in this project than in any of his other projects in the last 10 years. He maintained that the 54-acre site is suitable for his project, which will consist of several large buildings to grow fish from larvae to harvest.

He said the process has allowed everyone to be heard. He wished more people had approached him about their concerns, but will continue to listen to the community. He thinks a thriving business includes community and people.

Board member Mark Draper said it is typical for the department and an applicant to have several conversations about aspects of or clarifications in an application. He thinks it is more beneficial to the applicant and department to conduct business that way.

He said the 38 conditions on the NRPA permit might indicate that the application could have been developed better, but the department’s approval is pass or fail, rather than grading on a letter scale. He thinks the process has been robust and extensive, which he hopes results in a better project.

Lessard said the permit approval does not end the process because she believes intervenors will contest the board's decision. “This approval, if this occurs, isn’t a period at the end of a sentence; it’s three more dots until the next appeal appears,” she said.

Intervenors have 30 days to file an appeal of the board's decision after the permit approval is finalized. Upstream Watch and Tucker have both stated they intend to file appeals.