Guest column

OPINION: Salmon farm criteria

By Steve Ryan | Aug 17, 2018

The passionate debate over the Nordic Aquafarms proposal for an enormous on-land fish production facility continues into its seventh month, with multiple and lengthy formal public hearings being held by the city of Belfast since March.

The proposal has generated a very active level of public discussion and debate, which is a very good thing, and which I see as an indicator of the intelligence, vibrancy and involvement of our citizens. The civility of the debate was teetering on a dangerous edge for some time, but I think it has calmed and recent hearings and rhetoric have been more respectful, at least on the surface.

However, speaking for myself and on behalf of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce board, we count ourselves among the people who feel that some of the concern about and opposition to the proposal is trying to inject unreasonable criteria for any proposal to have to meet in order to be acceptable.

A new business proposing to open in our city has several burdens to prove: that it will not harm our environment, will not unpleasantly impose on its neighbors, will not unduly burden our roads and utilities, and so on.

However, no business has ever had to prove that it will still be in operation 30 years from now. No new business must prove that there is a sustainable and sufficient market for its products. No business has had the city evaluate the purity or desirability of its product. (If you don’t like the product, don’t buy it!) And no new business has been judged on the maturity of its industry, so that proposals for ground-breaking technologies would be rejected because the city is not absolutely sure it will be a success.

Furthermore, a business should not be evaluated as to whether it makes a profit. All of our city’s businesses, even “not-for-profits,” strive to make more than they spend so that they can stay in business. The Green Store ostensibly needs to be profitable to stay on Main Street. So must the tattoo parlor, Alexia’s and Renys.

Nordic Aquafarms also should not be pre-judged because it is an international organization. Hannaford is part of an international corporation that makes money, much of which stays in this community — but a good amount also leaves to go into the pockets of people from away. Does that mean Hannaford cannot operate in our city? Does it mean we don’t want Hannaford's jobs or taxes?

Does size matter? Bank of America is very large; should it be prohibited from expanding or even asked to leave? How about athenahealth? Camden National is the largest bank in northern New England. If they work hard to fit into our community, I think it is not a mark against them.

Likewise, an applicant should not be held to resolving our workforce shortage concerns, or assuring adequate middle class housing for Belfast. I feel these are the city, state and federal government’s responsibility to address, with help from businesses of all sizes, and should not be the price of admission to our community.

Of course, there are important and well-established criteria that this project will be held to: noise, traffic, parking, environmental pollution, light pollution, visual buffering, impermeable ground coverage limits, and so on. That is why we need to proceed with developing and codifying sound criteria for rigorously evaluating these impacts as required by law.

I’ve watched the city change zoning on many occasions to accomplish its goals. We need to approve these changes and proceed to examine the relevant, important and fair criteria to be applied to the development. Our community should not be swayed to contrive criteria for this project that introduce new and unfair measures of acceptability.

The Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce endorses the Planning Board and the city of Belfast moving ahead with reasonable Comprehensive Plan and zoning amendments that will enable the city and our residents to fully evaluate and shape the final proposal.

Steve Ryan is executive director of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce.

Editor's Note: While Steve Ryan is chairman of the Belfast Planning Board, he has recused himself from all voting on Nordic Aquafarm issues before the board, and in his Planning Board capacity does not attend or participate in any related meetings, discussions or workshops.

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Comments (5)
Posted by: Nancy E. Hinckley | Aug 18, 2018 13:10

Mr. Ryan, I read your letter twice, to be sure I didn't miss something. The central issue in this entire debate is the drain on our aquifer.  Our water supply.  Our future water supply.  But your opinion piece specifically omitted this - the elephant in the conversation.  I was present at the August 15th planning board hearing and heard this loud and clear from fellow citizens. There is very little information to go on about the impact on our precious water supply.  This is especially of concern here in Maine where state law favors the water rights of corporations over individuals.  The future of our water supply should be negotiated with the utmost care and transparency.

Posted by: Jennifer Hill | Aug 18, 2018 08:10

thank you for your thoughtful letter, Steve, but your analysis has a flaw - the same rules for a giant cannot be applied to that of an ant - when a giant sets its foot down, the sheer size could bring danger to those crushed underneath - while an ant's impact at the same gesture would go unnoticed

the footprint of this project is equal to 19 football fields, and its success is important because if it fails who is left with the clean-up? Look to Michigan and the behemoth factories left to rust in the wake of production relocations

if this experimental project fails, what incentive will investors from Norway have to stick around and find a new industry to utilize the sprawling facility? in practical terms, their failure will become our responsibility - we are smarter than we were in the 1950s – we’ve seen the ravages of unfettered industry, and we want to be cautious

rather than becoming stricter in the face of environmental degradation, businessmen LePage and Trump are diminishing environmental controls - now is not the time to relax and let the state and federal governments do the evaluating - now is the time to question this project for ourselves

Posted by: MARY JEAN CROWE | Aug 18, 2018 07:57

Mr. Ryan, Eric Heim couldn't have said this any better, if indeed he had written it.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 17, 2018 18:51

Can you help me discover if there is a copy of the start up costs to build the plant Nordic built in Norway to justify the building valuation.  The reason I ask is to discover a square footage price of a land farm facility valuation.  What happens if the Belfast farm can be built for $50,000,000?  Will the City be allowed to tax them for $150,000,000?  The City Council must have looked at these types of numbers to make fully informed decisions before committing a quarter of a million Belfastian's tax dollars.  Whole Oceans is building their first phase of their aqua farm for $75,000,000 twenty miles away.


Whole Oceans is only able to produce 5000 metric tons of salmon in a $75,000,000 facility.  Nordic's facility cost twice as much at $150,000,000 yet the project to produce 33,000 tons?  There are a lot of numbers but something is wrong with the ratios.  If someone walks into a City Council meeting and starts to ask these types of questions will the level of understanding learned by the Council and City manager behind closed doors in committing $240,000 tax dollars be able to justify?    Citizens are loosing their homes for non payment of those tax dollars and the council or City manager will be able to fully explain the numbers so everyone can understand?

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 17, 2018 18:17

Mr Ryan, are you saying that the City has invested and "partnered" with the Green Store or the Tattoo Shop or Reny's or Alexias?  I was not aware any of the businesses listed was awarded $240,000.  The City has a personal stake in this project of a quarter of a million dollars!  As well as moving the Water District, which I believe none of the businesses you list had available to them.  Are you saying the City should not worry about the financial stability of a company that the Citizens of Belfast hard earned tax dollars are supporting?  I have said I support this project, but it was originally sold as a $500,000,000 project which has now been reduced to a "could" by Mr Heim and the project now moves forward at $150,000,000.  A third of what Belfast is anticipating for future development as Phase 2 and 3 to now a "could".    So to say the financial stability and success is unwarranted is like letting the fox tending the chicken coop.  If Nordic doesn't rely on Belfast tax dollars to start up then I agree with comparing Nordic to Alexias. However when they are hesitant to supply investment and financial profiles to protect the City's tax payer dollars, then why the rush?  Why not allow them to do their due diligence with their own money.  I am not saying they have not spent any money for start up costs but every business does.  Nordic's project just has more zeros.

Mr Ryan, as head of the Chamber, will you now work to support each and every new business that would like to come to town and work to have Belfast tax dollars help every business with start up costs?  With out discriminating  of size of the new company so each business is treated equally?  Not discriminating whether the profits stay domestic or end up over seas.

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