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BEP begins public testimony on Nordic’s application

By Kendra Caruso | Feb 13, 2020
Source: Journal File

Belfast — The Board of Environmental Protection held more than eight hours of public hearings on Nordic Aquafarms’ land-based fish farm application for the first two days of its review. On the first day, Tuesday, the board considered financial capacity and water usage.

A crowd made up mostly of opponents packed the Hutchinson Center to watch testimony from Nordic representatives and intervenorsat the Feb. 11 meeting. Later that night, members of the public had a chance to address the board about their concerns.

Nordic Chief Financial Officer Brenda Chandler said the company will use debt and equity to fund the project in the first two phases. She said It cannot seek investor contracts for the project until after permits are issued. Phase one will cost $270 million and phase two will cost $230 million to complete, according to Chandler.

Nordic representatives highlighted how competitive the salmon market is and that the company does not foresee any problem acquiring funds for the project until it can start turning a profit. Chandler said the company has had no difficulty attracting funding for past projects.

Nordic President Eric Heim said salmon is a commodity product and that there is high demand for a relatively small supply of the fish in the current market.

He said other Nordic facilities have started realizing profits and the company has made about $63 million since 2014. Those profits are not to be used exclusively to fund the project, Chandler said when pressed by Kristin Racine, attorney for opposition group Upstream Watch.

The company will not have a solid number on how much investment it will attract until about two months after permitting, Heim said.

Small business accountant Martha Reeve, a consultant for Upstream Watch, testified about the lack of a guarantee for project funding. She said it was unclear how much equity the company will use and that it can abandon the project if the project is unsuccessful and use little equity to fund it.

Nordic attorney Joanna Tourangeau pointed out Reeve’s lack of corporate experience and knowledge of the salmon market. She argued that as a corporation, Nordic is not held to the same requirements as Reeve’s small-business clients.

During testimony from opponents, many more local fishermen than previously turned out to express apprehension about the project and its possible negative effects on the local lobstering industry.

Belfast lobsterman TJ Faulkingham and youth fisherman Hunter Penney, 15, asked the board to consider the impact the project could have on the future of lobster fishing in the area. Faulkingham said he wants young people to have the same fishing opportunity as he had.

Penney is a fourth-generation fisherman who said he wants to make a career in lobstering. He expressed concern that lobsters would move from the bay because warmer water from Nordic’s discharge pipes would create an unfavorable environment for them. He said that would put the local lobster industry at risk.

“I’m worried that if the salmon farm is built it’s going to mess up our ecosystem – potentially jeopardizing my future and all the fishermen who depend on it making a living,” Penney said.

Robert Brewer, who owns a small scallop farm in Penobscot Bay, spoke out against the project. He said he is worried that his scallops will absorb the production waste released into the bay, making them unfit for market

Much of the other opposition testimony was similar to what was previously said at Belfast Planning Board hearings on Nordic’s application. Those testifying spoke about the project's possible negative effects on the area’s ecosystem, the salmon farm's carbon footprint and the pollution it could cause.

A few proponents for the development testified, emphasizing the project’s anticipated positive effects, like economic growth and high-end technology that is considered sustainable.

When the board turned to the second topic for the day, two consultants hired by Nordic spoke about its water usage. The company said it will be drawing fresh water from groundwater, the Little River and the Belfast Water District.

Members of the BEP expressed confusion during Project Manager Ed Cotter’s testimony, which appeared self-contradictory at times regarding the primary water sources and how much water will be used. Finally, he said the facility would be using 1,000 gallons per minute of salt water and supplementing it with fresh water to reduce the salinity.

Heim said a salinity in the mid-20 parts per thousand range is the most favorable level for the salmon growth Nordic hopes to achieve.

He said the facility would use groundwater first, then up to 500 gallons per minute of city water and up to 250 gallons per minute from the Little River. Cotter said he does not expect to use the full capacity of each freshwater source, but did not give an exact amount of water the company intends to use.

It will use a water monitoring plan to track water quality, possible saltwater intrusion and well water levels on neighboring properties. Cotter said the company will appropriately compensate any neighbors adversely affected by the company’s water use.

Nordic engineering consultant Michael Mobile said bedrock fractures while drilling, and it can be difficult to predict how nearby wells will be affected or if the drilling will cause saltwater intrusion. But he said only one well tested positive for saltwater intrusion on Nordic’s site.

BEP Presiding Officer Robert Duchesne said the board must be certain that the use will not affect neighboring properties or it cannot issue a permit. Cotter said the company does not expect any adverse effects to neighbors and that the monitoring system is in addition to other safeguards.

Should access to fresh water be cut off, the facility could run with all salt water, but it would affect the company’s desired salmon growth rate, Cotter said. Many board members asked for solid numbers about the total amount of water the project will use.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: George Flimlin | Feb 14, 2020 08:29

Kendra, just for clarity, Salinity is measured in PPT which is parts per thousand, not trillion.



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