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Governor’s emergency bill raises concerns among Nordic opponents

By Kendra Caruso | Apr 22, 2021
Source: File photo

Gov. Janet Mills submitted emergency legislation that exempts land-based aquaculture facilities from the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code Requirement, which has alarmed Nordic Aquafarms opponents worried that the legislation might ease building requirements for the company’s proposed land-based fish farm.

The bill was submitted to the secretary of the Senate April 12 and was referred to the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, but no public hearing or work session for the bill has been scheduled for the committee, according to the Maine Legislature’s website.

It was presented on the governor's behalf by state Sen. Kimberley Rosen, R-Hancock, regarding Whole Oceans' land-based aquafarm project at the former Verso Paper Mill in Bucksport, and would exempt the company from certain building code requirements for a metal building that will house several large water tanks, according to Kate Foyet of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

The state code as written would require the company to install an elaborate sprinkler system that is not necessary for the building, considering its use and nature, she said in an email. Her department and the state Fire Marshal’s Office worked together to get the bill to the governor.

Once signed by the governor, the measure, which requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate to pass, would go into effect immediately, Foyet said, so the project could go on as scheduled. It does not exempt land-based aquaculture developments from air quality and effluent standards, she said.

Nordic opponent Upstream Watch issued a press release against the emergency legislation stating that it is unclear which aquaculture project the bill is for and questioning why it is considered an emergency.

The organization said it is concerned that the bill could weaken protections for workers and contractors working for aquaculture developments. The code requires many building construction features like fire safety, minimum electrical ventilation requirements for wastewater treatment processes, and maximum thresholds for removing soil to satisfy the definition of stable soil that help protect workers and contractors, according to the press release.

“Partial recirculating aquaculture factories are not hay barns or cow sheds,” Upstream President Amy Grant said in the press release. “They must be properly built to code, and meet or exceed energy standards. At the very least the public has the right to a formal proposal and review process, and legislators have a duty to protect Maine’s workers and the climate.”

Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, which also opposes Nordic’s project, issued a call to action through email April 13 asking people to contact state officials to express opposition to the bill that it claims will bring the company closer to obtaining all its construction permits necessary to start development.

Nordic received all its permit approvals from the Board of Environmental Protection and the Belfast Planning Board last year. There is a land dispute still pending in Waldo County District Court regarding ownership of the intertidal area where the company intends to lay its pipes.

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