Attorney says Belfast resident can't appeal Bucksport salmon farm

Whole Oceans asks state regulators to dismiss appeal for lack of standing
By Ethan Andrews | Jan 16, 2019
Photo by: Ethan Andrews The former Verso Paper mill site where Whole Oceans LLC hopes to build a land-based salmon farm.

Augusta — The company behind a proposed land-based salmon farm in Bucksport believes a Belfast woman shouldn't be able to appeal its wastewater discharge license.

Whole Oceans LLC, through its attorney, Brian Rayback of Pierce Atwood, filed a motion Jan. 7 with the state Board of Environmental Protection, seeking to dismiss an appeal by Holly Faubel of Belfast on grounds that she lives too far away to be affected directly by operations of the proposed facility.

"Ms. Faubel's use of the waters of Belfast Bay is not 'unique' from the use of the general public," Rayback said, "and thus her injury, if any, is not in any way distinct from that of everyone else who lives, works and plays in the Penobscot River or Belfast Bay or, for that matter, the rest of the Gulf of Maine."

Whole Oceans is going through permitting to build an aquaculture facility on the former Verso Paper mill site to raise Atlantic salmon for markets in the Northeast. The plan involves filling the fish tanks with water from the Penobscot River in combination with fresh water, then discharging the wastewater back into the river.

Faubel, in her appeal, argued that circulating the river water through the aquaculture facility could trigger a chemical change in the mercury known to exist in that part of the river, as pollution from the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington, with the resulting compound being far more toxic and persistent.

Specifically, she said, the inorganic mercury in the river would be exposed to bacteria in the fish tanks that would cause it to be converted to methylmercury, a compound that is exponentially more toxic to humans and does not break down in nature.

In her appeal, Faubel asked the board to require Whole Oceans to filter mercury from the river water before it enters the aquaculture tanks, sequester it, and remove it to a toxic waste disposal site. Additionally, she asked that Whole Oceans be required to test for ammonia in its discharge during winter months when it is most toxic to fish and shellfish.

Whole Oceans anticipates circulating 4.65 million gallons of water through the facility per day in its first phase, and up to 18.6 million gallons at full capacity. DEP approved Whole Oceans' Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and Wastewater Discharge License on Nov. 21, 2018.

Raybeck, in the motion to dismiss, compared Faubel's appeal to a 2009 court ruling against a pair of Westbrook property owners, who tried to block construction of a public landing on grounds that it would increase traffic on a road they regularly travel, creating a safety concern.

"In fact, unlike the appellants in the (Westbrook) case, she doesn't even own property in the same municipality," he said. "Her property is in Belfast, approximately 14 miles away from the project site in Bucksport, measuring in a straight line."

Raybeck cited DEP's own findings that there would be no measurable impact to the water quality south of Verona Island, which they noted is 12 miles from Faubel's property.

He also cited Maine Law Court's dismissal of appeals related to Canton Mountain Wind and Juniper Ridge landfill by residents who, in each case, lived 7 miles from the site.

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