Salmon farm supporters win across the board

Mortier, Harkness, Dean win City Council races

Opposition slate comes up short in race complicated by late entries
By Ethan Andrews | Nov 07, 2018
Photos by: Ethan Andrews City Council election winners Mary Mortier, Neal Harkness and Paul Dean.

Belfast — City Council incumbents Mary Mortier and Neal Harkness held onto their seats in elections Nov. 6. They will joined on the council by a longtime city committee member, Paul Dean.

The council race came to be defined by the land-based salmon farm proposed by Nordic Aquafarms in January. Ellie Daniels, Joanne Moesswilde and Jim Merkel campaigned together in opposition to the salmon farm, and ultimately were swept by supporters.

Mortier, from Ward 1, took an easy victory over write-in challenger Daniels. Speaking after the results were in, Mortier said she was glad to have had a challenger because it offered a way for citizens to get to know her as a representative.

Despite some tense moments during the race, Mortier applauded the opposition candidates for their commitment and energy.

"They put their hearts and souls into running in this race and I thank them for that, for being such citizens," she said, adding that they became more than single-issue candidates as the race went on.

Daniels on Nov. 13 said salmon farm opponents knocked on doors at more than 90 percent of homes in Belfast during their campaign and got a record number of write-in votes. She plans to continue following the progress of the salmon farm, which she still opposes, believing that it carries environmental and safety risks and resembles a bygone way of doing business in Belfast.

"It's a long way from a done deal," she said. "Unfortunately, with the council configured as it is right now, I see this very much attached to this one industry saving us from our tax issues."

Harkness won a third term in close race with challenger Moesswilde, who was the only opposition candidate to appear on the ballot. The Ward 2 councilor commended his opponent, who, he said, "ran a great campaign and was really gracious throughout."

If the election were a referendum on the salmon farm, as some have suggested, Harkness said supporters "won a clear victory." But with an unofficial margin of victory of fewer than 150 votes in his own race, he said he couldn't overlook his opponent's views.

"She clearly was speaking to people," he said, "and I have to take that seriously and listen to those concerns."

Moesswilde took a similar view on the civility of the race, which ended with a conversation with Harkness after results had been tallied.

"I'm really glad I did it," she said. "I learned a lot about myself and Belfast."

Moesswilde said she hasn't changed her mind on the salmon farm. And with a lawsuit pending against the city, she said, the cause is not lost.

Dean, a former member of the city's Comprehensive Plan Committee, and perhaps the most understated candidate in a heated election cycle, won his race for the Ward 5 seat over write-in challenger Jim Merkel. Speaking after the close of polls, Dean said he is "looking forward to serving the taxpayer."

"I'm pleased with the outcome," he said, "and work now begins."

Merkel said he plans to continue his efforts to hold the city accountable to the public, particularly with regard to the salmon farm.

"They could think of this as a mandate that they were right on this issue, but I don't see it that way," he said. "Being a write-in candidate is an uphill battle."

Nordic Aquafarms CEO Erik Heim released a statement Tuesday night, declaring that "the citizens of Belfast have spoken" by electing councilors who support moving the fish farm process forward.

"We are grateful to the people of Belfast and their leaders for their support," Heim said. "We will continue to be open, transparent and collaborative in all aspects of this project, which has so many benefits for Belfast and Maine."

The following are unofficial results from each ward.

Ward 5 City Councilor Paul Dean is sworn in by City Clerk Amy Flood on Nov. 12. Dean is serving his first term on the council. Councilors Mary Mortier and Neal Harkness were re-elected. (Courtesy of: Mike Hurley)
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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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