BELFAST — The city of Belfast has acquired Janet and Richard Eckrotes’ property on Penobscot Bay, including the intertidal zone where Nordic Aquafarms wants to place intake and outflow pipes for its proposed land-based fish farm. Nordic purchased the land and has deeded it to the city.

The conveyed intertidal land in front of the Eckrotes’ property is the subject of a legal dispute between the Eckrotes and their neighbors, Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, over who owns the intertidal zone in front of the upland parcel. Mabee and Grace claim historic deeds prove that they own that intertidal parcel.

The civil suit was heard in Waldo County Superior Court over the course of three days during the week of June 21. Justice Robert Murray is not expected to decide who owns the land for several weeks.

City Council approved acquiring the property at a special meeting July 8, and subsequently indicated the property will be used as a public park. The acquisition also will secure walking trails along the Little River.

Nordic spokesman Marianne Naess said in an email to The Republican Journal that gifting the land to the city is about the partnership with the city, residents and the company — a benefit of the fish farm project.

“We are now looking forward to enhancing the public benefit from the project by adding this beautiful park that ensures ocean front access for the people of Belfast,” she said. “… We are here to stay, any contribution to preserving access to the ocean for the residents is aligned with Nordic´s sustainability focus.”

The city will enter into easements with Nordic to allow the company to place its intake and outflow pipes in the intertidal zone in front of the upland property as part of the agreement allowing the city to acquire the property from Nordic.

Attorney William Kelley is representing the city on the acquisition, which was finalized July 9. A Brunswick appraisal service valued the entire property at $460,000. Kelley said the purchase agreement is consistent with the fourth amendment to the Options and Evaluations Agreement signed April 12.

Councilors met July 8 in executive session for more than an hour, after which they read and voted to approve three articles pertaining to the acquisition without any discussion. The public part of the meeting lasted only about five minutes.

The council released a statement July 9 announcing that it will take ownership of the property and saying the property will be available for public use as a park. The acquisition will also enable the city to permanently secure 40 acres of walking trails along the Little River.

“These 2.75 acres with 500 feet along Route One and 325 feet of Penobscot Bay shore frontage will be a remarkable addition to City of Belfast’s parks, anchoring public waterfront access far into the future,” the statement said.

The city will need to clear “alleged title defects” on the property. Upstream Watch President Amy Grant said she has been aware of discussions among city officials about the city taking over the property since May. Upstream Watch has been an active opponent of the fish farm.

In an email to The Republican Journal, Andy Stevenson Secretary of the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area said the acquisition does not include the intertidal area, ownership of which “is under adjudication.” The city has said that it does include the intertidal zone.

Mabee and Grace entered into a conservation easement with the group to form a conservation site called Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area. The conservation area encompasses the entire intertidal area Mabee and Grace claim to own, which is intertidal area in front of their upland property and intertidal area in front of three neighboring upland properties to the north, including the mudflats in front of the property the city just acquired.

Mabee and Grace’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment before this story was published. The story will be updated as developments occur.

 

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