BELFAST — Councilors agreed Feb. 15 to support the Sierra Club Maine Chapter’s grant application to the state. Under the grant, the club will assist the city in seeking government funding for sustainability projects.

Councilors said they had some trepidation about the idea of working with the club before the meeting, but that seemed to abate after they heard from Grassroots Climate Action organizer Ania Wright during the meeting.

Wright assured the council that there would be no conflict of interest regarding how the club would work with the city and the club’s stance on Nordic Aquafarms’ proposed land-based fish farm. Wright is the governor’s youth representative on the Maine Climate Council.

Conflict between City Council and the club started March 25, 2019, when the club issued a press release criticizing the Nordic project, which has strong support among councilors.

Councilors felt that the club was being used by local opponents as a platform for their stance against Nordic, Councilor Mike Hurley said in an email to The Republican Journal. They felt it was not clear that some of the club executives were also local opponents to the project.

“In particular what was found very problematic was that the opposition lawyer and various SCM directors, who are in the forefront of the local opposition, were left anonymous and hiding their dual roles as board members and as leading local opponents, who it was felt used the Sierra Club of Maine as a respected voice and platform to further their very narrow positions,” he said.

Councilors felt there was a lot of misinformation in the club’s press releases regarding the Nordic project. Ultimately, they felt it would be better to support the club’s grant application than not to.

“At some point this community’s gotta start healing from this,” Councilor Neal Harkness said. “And I think the fact is that in every single hearing, in every single court case, in every single determination, Nordic Aquafarms and the city have been the winners.

“The opposition has not won anything anywhere, and the worst thing we can do is be sore winners. I do think we need to be open to reconciliation and moving forward in mutual interests where it can be done.”

The club is applying for up to $12,500 through the Governor’s Office for Policy Innovation and Future to help two to five communities, including Belfast, apply for Community Action Grants up to $50,000 for sustainability projects. The service is at no cost to the city.

The city could apply for those funds on its own, but the club has experience and expertise in the process of applying for funding that would help the city, among other benefits, Climate Crisis Committee Chairman Jon Beal said.

Councilor Paul Dean agreed to support the agenda item, but said he is remaining cautious about the club. “But I’m a little concerned of being hijacked by the Sierra Club and I just can’t help myself. So, I will back the chance to do this, but with a little bit of reservation. In other words, I’m going to go in with my eyes wide open and hope for the best, and only ask for the best from you.”