BELFAST — A lawsuit brought against the city and Nordic Aquafarms appealing the Planning Board’s Dec. 22, 2020, decision to permit Nordic’s land-based fish farm was thrown out by Waldo County Superior Court Judge Robert Murray.

Murray on Sept. 1 found that the Zoning Board of Appeals did not err when it found that Nordic opposition group Upstream Watch did not prove standing to appeal the Planning Board decision to permit the company within the required time frame outlined in the city’s code.

Upstream asked the court to vacate the Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision not to hear its administrative appeal, find that the group has standing to appeal the Planning Board decision and that if the court does not grant the former two requests, then it asked the court to vacate the Planning Board’s decision to permit Nordic’s project, according to Murray’s order.

Appeals to Planning Board permit decisions must be submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals within 30 days of when the vote was taken, according to city ordinance.

On its initial appeal form submitted Jan. 21, 2021, to the Zoning Board of Appeals, Upstream stated that its standing to appeal the Planning Board’s decision was because it was an interested party in the Planning Board permit process and it participated in those proceedings, according to Murray’s order. Also noting that the group was formed to restore the Little River abutting the project and its volunteers use the trail systems, bay and river abutting the project.

In his order, Murray quotes the city’s ordinance regarding who has standing to appeal a Planning Board’s decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals. That language is as follows:

“A person whose land is directly or indirectly affected by the granting or denial of a permit or variance under the provisions of the zoning regulations …, the shoreland zoning regulations …, and the site plan review regulations …, or a person whose land abuts land for which a permit or variance has been granted.”

Nordic submitted an objection to Upstream’s appeal form questioning the group’s standing to appeal the permit decision, according to Murray’s order. Then, Upstream submitted affidavits signed by group members that were not submitted with the original appeal form and outside the 30-day appeal deadline.

Because those affidavits were submitted outside the 30-day appeal window and the Zoning Board of Appeals must rely on information submitted within that time frame, it determined the group did not prove it had standing and the appeal did not move forward, according to the order.

Upstream argued to Murray that there is no rule in the city’s code that requires an anybody to prove standing within the 30-day appeal period, according to the judge’s order.

However, in Murray’s decision he thinks the Zoning Board of Appeal’s interpretation of standing within the city’s code is reasonable in this circumstance, stating “… The court is satisfied from the plain meaning and structure of the city’s municipal code that the ZBA’s interpretation … here is well-grounded in the language of the statute and is neither unreasonable nor capricious.”

Because standing to administrative appeals is dependent on a municipality’s governing ordinance and because he had already determined that the Zoning Board of Appeals had not committed an error of law, the judge would not reverse the Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision determining that Upstream did not prove standing, according to the court order.

Nordic is proposing to grow salmon in a land-based facility on land adjacent to the Little River in Belfast, drawing water from several different sources and burying intake and outflow pipes going from its facility through an upland lot and intertidal and subtidal land to draw in water to its facility and discharge filtered water into the bay from its facility.

Opponents are concerned that the facility would draw too much groundwater, use too much water from the water district and that the water it discharges could adversely affect the bay, among many other concerns regarding pollution.

They have filed several lawsuits against the company, city and state objecting to permits for the project. There is also a land dispute in front of the Maine Supreme Court between the company and abutting landowners regarding who owns the intertidal land where the company wants to bury its intake and outflow pipes. Another lawsuit in Waldo Superior Court is on hold right now, objecting to the city’s eminent domain action a little over a year ago where it took the disputed intertidal zone.

Nordic Public Relations Manager Jacki Cassida said in an email to The Republican Journal that Murray was clearly upholding the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals based on what is outlined in the city’s ordinances.

Upstream Watch President Amy Grant said in an email to The Republican Journal that the group will appeal Murray’s decision. “The notice of appeal is already in the works. We will absolutely be appealing,” she said.