Fish farm critics speak as city floats zoning changes

Public meeting on land sale Thursday, March 15
By Ethan Andrews | Mar 13, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Among concerns voiced by critics of a proposed land-based salmon farm is the possibility of losing the picturesque view of Little River dam and the old pump house, seen here from Route 1.

Belfast — News that one of the world's largest land-based salmon farms might be built in Belfast met with a fair amount of skepticism amid the celebration at a grand unveiling last month. Since then, critics have continued to press for details.

A public meeting on the sale of land owned by the Belfast Water District land for the development will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at the Belfast Boathouse, 34 Commercial St.

Nordic Aquafarms, a Norwegian aquaculture company, plans to invest between $150 million and $500 million in the new facility where salmon would be raised from eggs to eight-pound fish for sale to markets in the Northeast United States.

The facility would be built on 40 acres next to Little River, on property purchased from the Belfast Water District and one private landowner. Nordic Aquafarms is currently testing the property for groundwater capacity and carrying out other due diligence to determine whether the project can go forward.

On March 6, several residents raised concerns to city councilors, who would later consider zoning changes necessary for the aquaculture facility.

Joanne Moesswilde of Belfast asked the council rhetorically who stood to benefit more — the city of Belfast or Nordic Aquafarms — and wondered if the Norwegian company might be getting the better end of the deal. She raised concerns about noise, light and visual pollution, but reserved her strongest objections for the loss of undeveloped land.

"Something about changing green space into industrial space to grow fish on land, it just doesn't feel right to me," Moesswilde said.

Karin Spitfire of Belfast saw a similar perversion of the natural order, motivated by "greed, short-sightedness and the need for expediency."

"The paradigm that allows us to consider a land-based salmon farm not only plausible but good economic sense is the same one that created the fact that we don't have a sustainable fishery of wild Atlantic salmon and cod, now," she said.

Spitfire said she asked city officials how deeply they looked into the technology touted by Nordic Aquafarms, along with the company's finances, before inking a deal. She also expressed concern that the land deals were made behind closed doors, and that opposing the zoning changes now before the City Council was the last chance to stop the development.

Several neighbors of the Water District property spoke against what they expect to be a blight on the picturesque landscape around Little River. Former City Councilor Larry Theye lives across the road from Water District property and praised the views both toward the bay and inland toward Little River. He called the entrance to Belfast on Route 1 from Northport, with views of the dam and pump house on one side and the bay on the other, "arguably the most pristine area in the entire city of Belfast."

City Councilor Neal Harkness later addressed Theye's remarks, saying that there has to be a balance.

"I'm sensitive to Larry's concerns about the view from his home," Harkness said. "I'm also sensitive to people who can't afford a home."

Sid Block, a Northport resident whose home faces Little River reservoir, asked city councilors to keep a measure of control over the land, either by leasing — rather than selling — to Nordic Aquafarms, or by attaching covenants to the sale to protect the land.

The facility proposed in broad strokes by Nordic Aquafarms would not be allowed under current zoning laws. As a remedy, City Planner Wayne Marshall suggested expanding an industrial zone that surrounds the nearby Mathews Brothers window-making factory to take in the fish farm land, and adding "land-based aquaculture" to the list of allowed uses.

Marshall asked the council to consider changing the ordinance to allow deep groundwater wells in the city's shoreland zoning areas, which would give Nordic Aquafarms a larger area in which to prospect for fresh water. Additionally, he recommended setting a height limit of 50 feet for the district — currently, there is no height limit — and increasing the standard to allow up to 70 percent of the lot to be covered by buildings, parking lots and other impervious surfaces, up from 65 percent.

Addressing some of the concerns of residents, Marshall said the details of how the facility, including its appearance, lighting and any increase in traffic can't be known at this stage of the development.

"I don't have any drawings of what this thing looks like," he said. "No one does. The company does not have a right to submit a permit application today … (they) cannot submit an application until the city changes the zoning."

City councilors took up some of the concerns of residents.

Councilor John Arrison asked about a safety clause to prevent another business from buying the rezoned land from Nordic Aquafarms for a different use in the event the fish farm falls through. Marshall said the zoning amendments could have a sunset provision, but he noted that the council has the authority to change the zoning ordinance at any time.

Councilor Mike Hurley said the city hasn't reviewed Nordic Aquafarms' finances, but he noted the upside of up to $48 million in new taxes. Not taking into account any changes to the state's education funding, which Hurley said probably would be significant, the new revenue would cut the city's tax rate in half, from 22 — dollars per $1,000 of property value — to 11, he said.

"That's my motivation," he said. "That's my only motivation."

The March 6 discussion was not part of the formal zoning ordinance amendment process, but rather an introduction. A first reading with a public hearing will be held at the next regular City Council meeting March 20. A second reading with a public hearing is tentatively scheduled for April 17.

Marshall said the zoning amendments would open the door for Nordic Aquafarms to submit an application, at which point it would be reviewed by the Planning Board. He invited comments sent by mail to Wayne Marshall, Belfast City Hall, 131 Church St., Belfast, ME 04915, by email to wmarshall@cityofbelfast.org, or by phone to 338-1417, ext. 125.

As of March 12, Marshall said he had not received any additional comments about the proposed zoning changes.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Mar 13, 2018 13:45

I am ALL for this project!  That said however, there needs to be a real serious look into the financing.

 

I have an elixir that will cure every disease in the world and I want to open a factory to mix it in Belfast.  The valuation of my plant is going to be $4,000,000,000 when complete, and I can cut Mr Hurley's taxes completely!!!!  My elixir is so wonderful!!!!!!........ Belfast doesn't need to dig into the financing of my project.  I need zoning changes and commitments from the city to trust me.  When the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth phase of my project is complete the elixir plant will generate so much in taxes that Belfast can offer dividend checks to every resident.

 

All Belfast needs to do is trust me.  No need to look behind the curtain.  I will make so much money with my elixir I will take my company public stock offerings.  Trust me!!.....as I will retire with the golden parachute forcing the company into bankruptcy.  Thank you for drinking my elixir and I hope you enjoyed it.  I have a couple of islands in the south pacific I am going to buy and drink tropical drinks and thank every tax payer for drinking my elixir and trusting me and my story because I am sticking to it!

 

Why has the City made the existing agreement or ANY agreement with ANY company without researching into the companies finances before committing tax dollars to that companies project?

 

Ask why Nordic Aqua Farms, who is building the worlds largest aqua farm, had no representation at the Boston International Seafood show?

 

As I stated in the beginning I am ALL for this project but where is the due diligence?  Shame on not looking into a Company's financing before making agreements using tax dollars.

 

PS  My elixir plant needs to ask the City for $10 million in help in starting the building and zoning process but I promise to pay it back.  Remember the tax elimination when my plant is built, so sign this agreement to give me the $10 million up front.  Remember the upside of Belfast not needing to tax citizens and when my Elixir plant is built the upside of NO TAXES and DIVIDEND refund checks!  Have another swig of my elixir and sign this agreement, move the water district,change the zoning, agree to put money up front, agree to subsidize my water purification, agree to pay half of the study (but cut me the check before I pay my half).

PSS My elixir plant will give you the motivation!  The only motivation you will need.  It is so perfect you needn't look into the finances.  Hope this helps people realize what is happening.  The City "hasn't" looked into the finances?  Seriously?  Signed an agreement?

 

 



Posted by: Harold Richardson | Mar 13, 2018 07:43

I'm having trouble understanding those against this project at this point.  This seems like a perfect fit for that area and I hope the questions about noise, waste, odor, lighting etc. get answered to satisfy most people.  Maybe something will come up to change my mind but at this point it seems like a great thing for Belfast. I would not be in favor of an offshore facility.  I trust the Council and planning board to do their best.  People speaking against stuff like this in public would probably get their point across better if they used less hyperbole.



Posted by: from the kitchen | Mar 13, 2018 05:30

Nimbys unite! 'Thanks, but no (fish) tanks!'



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