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Nordic Aquafarms releases discharge estimates for salmon farm

Projections show minimal impact to bay; critics continue to express doubts
By Ethan Andrews | Oct 05, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Nathan Dill, an engineer with Ransom Consulting, speaks during a required public meeting in Belfast about Nordic Aquafarms' application for a wastewater discharge permit. Elizabeth Ransom, foreground, adjusts a projected computer animation of tidal movement near the proposed discharge site for the land-based salmon farm.

Belfast — Representatives of Nordic Aquafarms on Oct. 4 gave a preview of wastewater discharge figures the company plans to submit to the state Department of Environmental Protection later this month.

The Norwegian company wants to build a land-based aquaculture facility in Belfast that would produce up to 66,000 pounds of Atlantic salmon per year, to be sold in Northeast markets.

The facility, which would the second-largest of its kind in the world, has raised hackles among some residents who fear, among other things, that treated wastewater from the facility will pollute the bay.

While the details presented by representatives of the company on Thursday showed negligible effect on the bay, opponents continued to challenge the plan, often based on what seemed to be a parallel set of competing facts about a facility that is years away from being built.

Nordic Aquafarms anticipates a major step later this month when the company files its application with DEP for a discharge system permit.

On Thursday, in front of a crowd of 150 people in the Troy Howard Middle School cafeteria, representatives described four types of potentially harmful components of wastewater discharge that are regulated by DEP, explained how the wastewater would be treated, and projected what would happen to the treated water once it is returned to the bay.

The result, while still a sketch, is the first end-to-end picture the public has seen of what will happen to water flowing in and out of the facility.

As Nordic representatives described it, brackish water would be drawn into the facility through a pipe extending a mile into the bay. Once inside, the seawater would be used in combination with freshwater drawn from deep wells and the municipal water system to simulate the wild living conditions of the anadromous fish, which will be raised from eggs to eight-pound adult fish.

At various stages, the water would be treated to remove suspended solids, including food and feces; lower biochemical oxygen demand, which can compromise water quality; and remove nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that are linked to algae blooms in natural water systems.

Nordic CEO Erik Heim and company officials said the systems at the proposed facility, while larger than similar systems being used today, are based on established and tested methods and will benefit from advances in the quickly emerging industry of land-based fish farming.

The figures presented Oct. 4 were based on a full build-out of the facility, which is scheduled to be rolled out in three phases.

Nitrogen would be removed continuously in the salmon tanks using an anaerobic reduction process that would take out 85 percent of the nutrient before water is sent to the facility's treatment plant. The remaining nitrogen would be diluted within a short distance of the discharge pipe, according to Nordic Aquafarms.

Wastewater sent to the treatment plant would be subjected to three cleaning steps. First, a chemical process would reduce the phosphorus content by 99 percent. The water would then pass through a membrane of mesh fine enough to catch bacteria — Heim described it as similar to screens used to purify blood.

This micro-filtration process would remove 99 percent of suspended solids and lower biochemical oxygen demand by the same percentage. In the final stage, ultraviolet light would be used to disinfect the water before it is discharged into the bay through a pipe running underground to a location about 1,000 meters from the shore.

Heim said he would drink the water coming out of this pipe, with the caveat that it would be salty.

Nathan Dill, an engineer with Ransom Consulting, displayed animations on a screen in the middle school cafeteria showing how this water would be dispersed in the bay.

In some cases, as with suspended solids, the concentration would be lower than the existing levels of water in the bay. At a meeting with local media earlier that day, Heim said, "Essentially we are cleaning the bay, but don't write that."

Concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus coming out of the facility would be higher than those in the bay, but these would be diluted to "background" levels within 30 to 50 feet of the end of the pipe, according to Nordic's computer models.

Dill said the models, based on data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration station at Fort Point, Stockton Springs, were calculated to be conservative, or show something closer to a worst-case scenario. Wind, variations in bay temperatures at different depths, and oth


er factors that would make water movement less predictable would tend to cause more mixing of the discharge and bay water, diluting the effluent faster, he said.

Nordic Aquafarms recently asked the city to temporarily treat its discharge during construction of an onsite water treatment plant but withdrew the request, Heim said, after learning that the municipal wastewater plant didn't have the capacity to spare.

Despite Nordic's assurances of minimal effect on the bay, a number of attendees weren't convinced. During more than two hours of public comment and questions fielded by Heim, Dill, Ransom and others affiliated with the proposal, members of the public raised the specter of a "plume" of waste gushing into the bay at a rate of 7.7 million gallons per day — the maximum amount that is expected to appear in Nordic's discharge permit application.

While Heim described the discharge not only as clean enough to drink, but a "drop in the bucket" of the larger bay system — Nordic's facility would account for 0.75 percent of all discharge sources around Penobscot Bay, he said — opponents imagined a torrent of filth coming from the plant.

Jim Merkel, who recently launched a bid for City Council as a write-in candidate, challenged the idea that it's OK to add "not much, but more" pollution to an "already collapsed ecosystem."

"What happens if it's smelly at the beach?" he asked, adding that smells and pheromones in the water could make it hard for lobsters to find traps and could otherwise disrupt marine life.

Heim said he'd never smelled anything near any of the company's facilities in Norway and Denmark and didn't anticipate the problems that Merkel described.

Comments at times veered in a xenophobic direction, with Ethan Hughes of Belfast telling Heim and Nordic Aquafarms, "You are guests in our country and not the other way around," later adding a sarcastic "so, welcome." Ellie Daniels, another write-in candidate for City Council, criticized the use of metric measurements, saying an American permit should include "American measures, so we can understand them more."

Daniels grilled the panel for the specific ingredients that would be used in the fish feed. Heim said the company is far from making that decision. The two went back and forth with Daniels probing for signs that Nordic wouldn't live up to its talk of sustainability and Heim expressing hope that increasing demand for sustainable feed ingredients, like insect protein, would put more options on the market by the time the Belfast facility is built.

Several speakers asked for the ability to have independent testing of the discharge, with Mary Bigelow of Belfast suggesting a manhole between the salmon farm and the bay that could be used to access the outflow pipe. Heim said he is open to some kind of independent testing.

Nordic plans to submit the discharge permit application on Oct. 19, at which time the document will be public.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the length of the discharge pipe as 1,000 feet. The proposed length is 1,000 meters, or roughly 3,280 feet.

Nordic Aquafarms CEO Erik Heim speaks during an Oct. 4 presentation on the wastewater discharge permit application his company expects to file later this month for a land-based salmon farm in Belfast. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
The cafeteria of Troy Howard Middle School was packed on Thursday night for an informational meeting in advance of Nordic Aquafarms filing a discharge permit for its proposed Belfast salmon farm. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
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Comments (5)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Oct 07, 2018 00:14

Ethan, can you discover the studies Mr Nathan Dill, the engineer with Ransom Consulting, has to present to the DEP for their permits.  The information is vital as the pockmarks and the releases, and how they grow are vital to the survival of life in the Bay.  The releases of methane gas, as well as fresh water are ever changing and adding a pipeline through this field is certain to change the Bay.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Oct 07, 2018 00:07

The "pocks" release fresh water and require extensive studies and analysis of the exact path or the pipe to control and not vary the salinity of the bay. That plus the methane gas releases.   The above web site is extremely informative for both sides in order to protect and maintain the lively hood of the Bay.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Oct 06, 2018 23:59

How does this underground pipe drilling effect the pockmarks?

Posted by: Ethan Andrews | Oct 06, 2018 08:52

Jennifer, I think you’re right. Now reads “sarcastic.”

Posted by: Jennifer Hill | Oct 06, 2018 07:02

"snarky" is pejorative for a news article, and best left to the editorial pages

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