PORTLAND — Opponents of Nordic Aquafarms’ proposed land-based fish farm argued last month against the Maine Board of Environmental Protection’s decision to permit the company’s development. The opponents claim the company did not have proper title, right and interest and its proposal will violate clean water and clean air acts, among other concerns.

Parties at the Dec. 17, 2021, hearing had a limited time to argue and present facts during the session, which lasted roughly two hours, according to Upstream Watch President Amy Grant.

In late 2018 Nordic approached the city with its fish farm proposal and received support from elected officials. Shortly afterward, opposition to the project started growing out of concern the project would harm the environment.

Nordic has defended its recirculating aquaculture system and maintained that its project will not have an adverse effect on the bay. By the end of 2020 it had received almost all of its state and local permits.

The company intends to place intake and outflow pipes from its upland facility through a mudflat and subtidal land, where it will expel excess filtered water from its facility.

Opponents are concerned the water will not be filtered enough and an excess of chemicals, such as nitrogen, will pollute the bay and hurt local fishing, recreation and living creatures in the area. They claim BEP changed the calculations of nitrogen levels the facility will release based on information admitted after the record was closed.

In its brief, supplied to The Republican Journal by Assistant Attorney General Laura Jensen, the state argues that the recalculated nitrogen levels were based on information already in the record, but Nordic staff found that Department of Environmental Protection staff used an incorrect dilution factor.

Opponents are also concerned that the project will have a larger impact on air quality than DEP found and argue that the project does not qualify for a minor-source air emission permit. The project will have eight large diesel-powered generators to be used for peak shaving during certain times of the year to reduce the burden on the electric grid.

The state maintains that the project qualifies for a minor-source air emission license and other emission sources in the facility are trivial. Some of those other possible emission sources include the grow-out tank buildings, the office building, an on-site cement plant, cars, trucks and fugitive dust, none of which qualify as emission sources to be considered with the generators under the state’s standards.

Opponents also say the board did not scrutinize the company’s proof of title, right and interest during the permitting process. There is a case in civil court over who owns the intertidal land where Nordic wants to lay its pipes.

Neighboring property owners Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace claimed historic deeds proved they own the land and sued Janet and Richard Eckrote, who owned the upland property to that intertidal land until it was transferred to the city of Belfast. Waldo County Superior Court Justice Robert Murray has issued a preliminary ruling that the flats were conveyed with the upland parcel, owned by the Eckrotes, in historic deeds, though that suit is still ongoing.

Attorney Kim Ervin Tucker, who represents Mabee and Grace, Maine Lobstering Union and Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, argued that the easement between the company and the Eckrotes to use the intertidal land to place Nordic’s pipes is not specific enough about what part of the land Nordic will use.

She also argued that that easement is no longer in use and another has been developed between the company and Belfast, the current owner of the land.

The state argued that the easement does not have to be more specific than what Nordic had presented. A company must simply provide a deed, a lease, an easement, an option to buy or lease, or other evidence to satisfy the department to fulfill the title, right and interest requirement.

It also maintained that the board cannot determine the ultimate ownership of the property, which is why it was not a topic argued at the public hearings in February 2020.

Tucker contended that BEP should have required Nordic to submit an additional state permit to haul dredged materials from the intertidal and subtidal site where the company’s pipes will be buried to Mack Point in Searsport, where it will be disposed of at an upland site.

The state said the board’s decision not to require an additional permit for transporting that material was justified, because it will be disposed of at an upland site and the company will use nets to capture material that falls off the barge during transportation.

Nordic representative Marianne Naess said in a statement that the company hopes a decision will come soon so it can “put these issues to rest.” The company is also satisfied with how thorough the state was in its response to plaintiffs’ arguments.

“The opponents’ arguments were the same arguments that have been denied countless times and … there is nothing to this except a desperate attempt to stall the process,” she said.

Upstream Watch President Amy Grant said Business and Consumer Court Justice Michaela Murphy seemed interested in the status of the property ownership litigation regarding the mudflats in Waldo County Superior Court. There is a lot of evidence to consider, she said.

It is unknown when the judge might come to a decision.