I was in the room when the City Council first met Nordic Aquafarms almost four years ago.  At that meeting, council made it clear that they would not support the project unless they were convinced that the project was environmentally safe, technically sound and adequately financed.

Since then, council members have gone forward and done a lot of their own research, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours with citizens, city staff, consultants and legal counsel to better understand the complexities of the proposed project and the concerns of the public.

The council that was accused of being environmentally insensitive moved quickly to preserve public use of the Little River Trail, which could have been sold to a private buyer or developer at any time.

Over the last 3-4 years Nordic Aquafarms has worked, as any business would, to secure the necessary environmental and operational permits from federal, state and local agencies. These agencies have expertise that no municipality can match and they are charged with the independent responsibility to evaluate all sides of the raised issues. There was a huge amount of public participation and the council rightly deferred to the evaluations and findings of these independent expert agencies. These agencies concluded that the project was environmentally safe, technically sound and adequately financed, subject to specific, enumerated conditions.

These governing and permitting agencies will continue to monitor, test and review Nordic’s project for decades ahead and the required testing and monitoring reports will be released to the public. If future activity causes harm, these agencies retain their authority to direct changes. That is what environmental agencies do.

What was left is a legal question on the ownership of a mudflat where Nordic planned to bury its inflow and outflow lines. A mudflat that would look the same after construction as it would before construction. Each side has set forth expert testimony on who owns the mudflat.

Having failed to stop the project before the various environmental agencies, the opponents have steadily turned to the courts with the stated goal of defeating the project. As time has already shown, court decisions can follow a ladder of judicial appeals that can take years.

Belfast City Council members have very broad responsibilities, including pursuing a local living wage, employment, economic development, economic diversity and stability, environmental protection, aesthetic preservation, recreation, affordable utilities and housing, public process and open participation, tax rates and tax fairness to all individuals and businesses, and dedicating the proper amount of time they can allocate to any one issue. Their decisions rarely rest upon a single consideration.

The council could have resolved title by taking the mudflat years ago, but that would have dampened the amount of dialogue and broader discussion of many of the issues. It decided instead to let the open process continue so that we could all hear and see what the parties and independent agencies and experts had to say.

In my view, the council never wanted to have to use eminent domain, but there comes a time when in the light of all of their responsibilities, they are called upon to demonstrate the courage needed to bring resolution to a very long and significant battle that has fostered great participation in multiple public forums. The conversations have all been had and heard.

Fear is a swift and easy advocate. It takes very little to be afraid. It takes commitment and courage to do what you believe in your heart is best for the city and to dedicate oneself to continuing to test the foundations of those fears.

I support the council’s decision because I believe that the project is environmentally safe, technically sound and financially viable. It’s time for all of us to come back together and seize the opportunity to help this business succeed and meet our aspirations, just as we would with any other business.

One day I hope we can look back and value the gauntlet we have all endured and the courage of the council that steered the city through it. Little in life is all or nothing — let’s find the common ground to work with Nordic and help make the Aqua Farm be truly  great.

Former Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum retired from his position in 2020 and lives in Castine.