BELFAST — City property owners Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area and Upstream Watch filed a lawsuit Aug. 16 claiming the city’s actions at an Aug. 12 City Council meeting to take by eminent domain a disputed intertidal area violate the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 21 of the Maine Constitution.

Attorney Kim Ervin Tucker, representing Mabee and Grace and Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, said the city is taking land from a private citizen for use by a private corporation, which violates state statute. The intertidal area is where Nordic Aquafarms hopes to place its intake and outflow pipes for its proposed land-based salmon farm.

State law says private land that is used for agriculture, fishing, forestry or has with residential homes or other structures cannot be taken for purposes of private retail, office, commercial, industrial or residential development.

The city has argued that it needs the land to close an Evaluation Agreement and Options and Purchase Agreement it entered into with the Belfast Water District and Nordic in January 2018. It also touted the public benefits that might result from the taxes the company is expected to pay once it is functional, as well as infrastructure benefits the Belfast Water District will be able to fund with money from Nordic’s use agreement with the utility.

Tucker argued that the public already has access to the Little River Trail through the Belfast Water District, which owns that land right now, and the conservation easement Mabee and Grace issued over the entire intertidal land they claim to own grants public access to that property.

There is currently a civil suit in Waldo County Superior Court over who owns the intertidal parcel that is the subject of the eminent domain taking. Mabee and Grace claim historic deeds prove they own that parcel and several other intertidal parcels in front of upland properties north of theirs. Former property owners Janet and Richard Eckrote claimed they owned that intertidal parcel, which is in front of the upland property they owned. Justice Robert Murray has not yet ruled in the case.

In July the city was given the Eckrotes’ former upland property by Nordic, which bought the land from them. In exchange for the land, the city must clear title defects to the intertidal land and then issue the company easements to place its pipes in the intertidal area, according to a purchase and sale agreement between the city and Nordic. If Nordic does not get easements for its pipes, it is unclear whether the city will retain ownership of the upland parcel.

Plaintiffs in the Aug. 16 suit also asked the court to preserve the status quo of the land while the dispute is being litigated. If the judge agrees, it would prevent Nordic or anyone else from developing the land until after the lawsuit is completed.

Attorney Bill Kelly, who is representing the city on this matter, and Mayor Eric Sanders did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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