City councilors clap back at fish farm critics

Public comments elicit heat from Harkness, Hurley
By Ethan Andrews | Jun 06, 2018
Courtesy of: Nordic Aquafarms Buildings constructed as part of a proposed land-based salmon farm would be limited to 45 feet under height limits adopted by the City Council June 5. Above is an artist's rendering of the fish farm as it might appear.

Belfast — A Wendell Berry poem might have been the last straw for city councilors, who laid into salmon farm opponents Tuesday night after they made comments equating approvals for the project with poisoning the land and killing children.

Nordic Aquafarms, a Norwegian company that hopes to build a $150 million aquaculture facility in Belfast, wasn't on the agenda Tuesday night, but the council did consider two zoning amendments that relate to the project. Opponents used a public comment period to voice sweeping objections to the larger fish farm plan.

Joanne Moesswilde, an opponent of the project, referred back to an April 17 public hearing at which the overflow crowd logged two hours' worth of objections before the council approved zoning amendments that removed a major obstacle for Nordic Aquafarms.

Moesswilde called it "shocking" that neither the mayor nor any member of the City Council sided "with the citizens of Belfast," who asked the council to slow the approval process.

"What's Nordic Aquafarms going to ask for next?" she said, warning that it could be tax breaks, road improvements or exemptions from local regulations.

Steve Byers, a Waldo resident who operates an herbal medicine clinic in Belfast, asked councilors if they could prove that the salmon farm would be sustainable and not have a negative impact on future generations.

"What is sustainability, anyway?" he said. "Do you even know?"

Byers accused the council of giving preference to the interests of industry over those of people and the land. He read the Wendell Berry poem "Questionnaire," which begins, "How much poison are you willing to eat for the success of the free market and global trade?" and ends with the lines, "State briefly the ideas, ideals or hopes, the energy sources, the kinds of security; for which you would kill a child. Name please the children whom you would be willing to kill."

The council didn't take kindly to the suggestion that their zoning decisions amounted to sacrificing children to industry.

Councilor Neal Harkness raised his voice as he berated the two fish farm opponents. "You speak for yourselves, not for the community," he said, adding that he believes a majority of people in Belfast support the Nordic Aquafarms project.

Councilor Mike Hurley called the public comments "disgusting" and "reprehensible."

He singled out Moesswilde, whom he accused of organizing a "mob" to attend the April 17 hearing, then coming back to complain that her campaign hadn't worked. The city councilor sarcastically thanked Byers for coming from Waldo to share his opinion.

"We are not murdering children here!" he barked at Byers. "You accuse us of mortal crimes; we are not guilty."

Other councilors took a softer stance, perhaps in an attempt to cool the debate. Councilor Eric Sanders told the opponents that the city councilors are also concerned residents and have had the best interests of the city in mind when making their decisions.

Sanders voiced support for the people behind Nordic Aquafarms and said he believes the project, "if successful," will improve the environment for future generations.

Opponents have painted the proposed salmon farm as an ecological threat, while representatives of the company say land-based aquaculture is significantly better for the environment than offshore pens used in salmon farming today.

Mayor Samantha Paradis thanked the speakers for continuing to be engaged in the process, but said their comments on Tuesday night "seemed to go beyond" being respectful. Paradis placed some of the blame on the way discussion is structured at city meetings. She suggested that the opposition group invite an elected city official to attend one of its meetings.

The council approved a zoning change that drops the height limit from 50 feet to 45 feet on buildings in the newly created Route 1 Business Park South zoning district, which would be home to the Nordic Aquafarms facility. Prior to April 17, the property had no height limit. The 50-foot cap approved at that time was amended at the request of Councilor Mary Mortier.

Additionally, the council added solar panels to a list of roof features — along with chimneys, antennas and steeples — that are not counted when measuring the height of the building.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jun 08, 2018 16:17

Knowledge is power!!!!   Everyone should spend some time on You tube to help understand. Towards the end of the first video does mention how it the amount of jobs decline with automation.   It is like someone coming into City Hall century's ago pitching an idea of wanting to use Cow Poop to make the vegetables we eat grow bigger.  I bet the sky was falling down when that idea was first pitched too!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qs2BJGJfCK8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxp7SKs8GE4



Posted by: Neal Harkness | Jun 08, 2018 11:09

Mr. Hall, I have taken no polls or surveys, I can only present the evidence of my experience talking to people all over Belfast. It's rare that I can go to the store or walk down the street without someone stopping me to express their feelings about Nordic Aquafarms, and what the vast majority tell me is that they support the project.

They understand that economic development offers the only realistic means to achieve significant property tax relief. They reject the foolish notion that scores of good paying jobs are "not worth it", and they are skeptical about the doomsday prophecies of the opposition.

There are issues that need to be addressed in this, as in any large development, but they are confident that moving forward with due diligence is the proper course.

-Neal Harkness



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jun 06, 2018 18:55

I have stated before I am FOR the project, but I am curious to where the facts Mr Harkness uses that "the majority of community supports the project".   I missed a public vote on any of the changes to City rules and regulations?

He is making his votes based on "fact or suspicions" of the constituents?   Could he please provide the basis of where the formation of his opinion come from?  Have there been polls taken?  That would help keep the "arguments" to a more civil tone if there were facts and not fears.

 

The people whom worried about the after life of the building is a valid one.  The councilors should provide given in this same Village Soup web page mentions the selling of another major employer in Belfast.  Wasn't there a large company with the initials MBNA that sold out to BOA?  What happens to that fruit after the sale?  I bet there are many, if they still live here, that might have an opinion on the after life of what a VERY LARGE project ripens into.  Wonderful  tasting fruit?, or is it forced into crushing it and making juice?, or is it just turned into a spoiled empty useless thing?

 

I do thank Mayor Paradis for engaging in encouraging herself and other Councilors to attend the projects opposition meetings to have a calm dialog to reduce the "fears".

I DO think it is shameful to be a chicken little and scream the sky is falling down.  This company is NOT going to spend $150 million to build a building to have it loose money.  I would like the City keep pushing for the $500 million the project was originally sold to the City on.  $350 million is over twice the new number that sold the project in the first place.  How much "LESS" would the tax benefit be should the rest of the project never develop as 2/3rds less then the benefit hoped for is a big piece of a pie.

 

I don't think babies will die if the fish plant is built and I have no doubt feed silos can be built shorter then 45 feet.  They have promised to grow fish for EXPORTING.  Have faith that Nordic Aqua farms is going to make Belfast great again.    The Councilors who are making Belfast Great Again are the ones who support the project and are pushing for it!!!    Support them and their decisions or take out nomination papers and run against them.  Please don't go the recall road as it get too messy.  I have no doubt Trump will be as proud of this project and the Councilors are!  This is a multi national company building in the US to Make America Great Again.  Go Belfast!!!  Build the tanks!!!   Call them buildings but when you get right down to it they are fish TANKS!!!!!

 



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