Belfast resident appeals permits for Bucksport salmon farm

River water use would intensify mercury pollution
By Ethan Andrews | Jan 11, 2019

Augusta — A Belfast resident has appealed two environmental permit applications for a proposed salmon farm in Bucksport on grounds that the current rules would make existing pollution in the river much worse.

Holly Faubel on Dec. 17 asked Maine Department of Environmental Protection to require that Whole Oceans LLC remove mercury from the Penobscot River water it would use in a new land-based salmon farm proposed for construction on the former Verso Paper mill site.

Whole Oceans plans to combine the brackish river water with fresh water in large above-ground tanks that would be used to raise Atlantic salmon. The company anticipates producing 11 million pounds of salmon in its first phase of operation and as much as 44 million pounds at full capacity.

Faubel, who owns property in Belfast with 250 feet of shorefront on Penobscot Bay, argues in her appeal that drawing water from the Penobscot River and discharging it back to the river after use would change the chemical structure of the mercury, making it far more poisonous.

The river is polluted with an estimated 320,000 tons of mercury from the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington. The compound, which is toxic to humans, is naturally contained by water temperatures and differences in salinity between the bay and river water to an area of the river both to the north and south of the proposed Whole Oceans facility.

If the inorganic mercury is drawn into the facility, Faubel said, it would interact with bacteria in the fish tanks and be converted to methylmercury, an exponentially more toxic compound that does not naturally degrade in the environment. Her appeal asks DEP to require that Whole Oceans filter and sequester the mercury before it reaches the fish tanks, then remove it to a toxic waste disposal site.

Faubel also asked DEP to require that the Whole Oceans facility be monitored for un-iodized ammonia, which is toxic to fish.

The challenge to the Whole Oceans plan is notable, in part, because the project has attracted very little controversy. Another land-based salmon farm proposal by Nordic Aquafarms in Belfast, by contrast, has seen intense public scrutiny by opponents since it was announced a year ago.

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