BEP holds hearings on Nordic fish farm application

By Kendra Caruso | Feb 18, 2020
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Mostly opponents pack the University of Maine Hutchinson Center Feb. 11 to testify at a hearing on Nordic Aquafarms' land-based fish farm application before the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.

Belfast — The Board of Environmental Protection held public hearings on Nordic Aquafarms’ land-based fish farm application over four consecutive days last week. The board reviewed financial capacity, water usage, wastewater, wetlands, stormwater, existing uses, blasting, and odor and air emissions.

A crowd made up mostly of opponents packed the University of Maine Hutchinson Center to watch Nordic and intervenor testimony starting Feb. 11.

Wastewater was discussed at length. Ransom Consulting engineer Nathan Dill said wastewater will move through a microfilter, then be submerged in ozone to kill remaining bacteria and viruses before being exposed to UV lights to kill any live cultures and break down ozone.

Local opposition group Upstream Watch’s consultants said a high UV concentration is required to kill some contaminants, and 300 millijoules per cubic centimeter squared might not be sufficient.

Nordic Project Manager Ed Cotter said the wastewater will have a salinity of 20-25 parts per thousand and will be between 59 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Cotter said the expected salinity and temperature of the wastewater are within the current high and low averages in the bay. Nordic’s models show the wastewater will disperse into open water and not remain in the bay.

Upstream asked that the board consider requiring frequent third-party testing at the end of the discharge pipe. The group's models show the waste will collect in the bay and wash ashore.

Lobstering Union attorney Kim Ervin Tucker pressed Cotter about how much water the project will use daily, and after a brief back-and-forth he stated that the project will draw in 7.7 million gallons per day and expel that much into the bay.

Many more local fishermen than at previous hearings turned out to express apprehension about the project.

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

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.

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

The company employed two consultants to testify about its water usage. They said Nordic will be drawing fresh water from groundwater, the Little River and the Belfast Water District. Cotter said the facility would use fresh water to reduce the salinity of salt water, which it expects to use at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute.

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 exact amounts of water usage.

He said the company will appropriately compensate any neighbors adversely affected by the company’s water usage. 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.

Should a freshwater source become unavailable, the facility can use only salt water, but it would affect the desired salmon growth rate, according to Cotter. Many board members asked for solid numbers about the amount of water the project will use.

During the wetlands discussion, Nordic maintained that three mercury tests conducted on samples taken near the proposed pipeline route show minimal mercury levels in the area. Only one test came back positive for mercury, and that was in amounts below the legal limit.

Tucker said the failure to test along the exact proposed pipeline means there is not a clear picture of how much mercury is in the area. She recommended further testing along the pipeline route.

Local fishermen Wayne Canning and David Black testified about their concerns and cited the Penobscot River Study, ordered by the U.S. District Court in Maine in 2003, on previously released mercury, as proof that there is buried mercury in the area.

Nordic Chief Operating Officer Cathal Dinneen spoke about project odors. He identified fish feces, processing, feed storage and fish that die as possible odor sources. Most of the odorous waste will be contained in large, sealed industrial canisters inside buildings, he said.

Upstream Watch engineering consultant Michael Lannan criticized Dinneen’s plan to mitigate odor because, he said, it does not address the type of odor, odor area and specific technology and enclosures used to mitigate the issue.

Maine Drilling and Blasting engineer Brett Doyon will contract with Nordic to blast ledges and rock formations during construction. Upstream Watch and BEP members had concerns about the Little River dams' structural integrity for nearby blasting.

Doyon said he will reduce explosive intensity and use seismograph monitoring at vulnerable areas near the project to monitor and maintain the dams’ structure.

Steve Whipple of Mainely Environmental talked about the company’s intention to use diesel generators for peak shaving to relieve demand on the local electrical grid during the city’s high usage days. There are eight generators, but only seven will run concurrently at any given time, according to the company. Nordic has applied for a minor emissions license for the generators.

Upstream argued that the company is not calculating its total emissions, including the HVAC system. Nordic said the HVAC system will be used primarily in administrative offices and only for minor facility operations. The opposition argued that if it is used for any facility operations, it should be considered as air emissions in the Department of Environmental Protection’s emissions model.

At the end of the hearings, DEP announced that it will conduct further air modeling based on hearing details.

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 President Eric Heim said other Nordic facilities have started making profits, and it has made about $63 million since 2014. Those profits are not to be used exclusively to fund the project, Chandler said, when pressed by Upstream’s attorney, Kristin Racine.

Small business accountant Martha Reeve testified for Upstream about the absence of a guarantee for project funding. She said it is unclear how much equity the company will use and that it can abandon the project if it 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 subject to the same requirements as Reeve’s small-business clients.

At the end of the testimony, the board announced that the Department of Marine Resources will hold a public hearing Monday, March 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Troy Howard Middle school on the potential impact of Nordic’s Natural Resources Protection Act permit application.

Two fishermen speak out against Nordic Aquafarms' land-based fish farm at UMaine Hutchinson Center Feb. 11 during the Board of Environmental Protection's public hearings. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Nordic Aquafarms and its opponents, foreground, sit beside each other at the UMaine Hutchinson Center Feb. 11 while the Board of Environmental Protection considers the company's application for a land-based fish farm. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Nordic Aquafarms officials, right, address the board about the company's application Feb. 11 at UMaine Hutchinson Center. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Comments (1)
Posted by: James Knight | Feb 19, 2020 07:58

As a retired specialist in the field of wastewater treatment for over 45 years, a review of historical operating data from existing and similar facilities has always been of paramount importance when reviewing design criteria of proposed facilities. Hopefully this has been considered by all involved.

Larry Knight

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