Bricks and Mortars

OPINION: Nordic's credibility chasm

By Lawrence Reichard | Jun 07, 2018

In my last column I wrote about plans by the Norwegian company Nordic Aquafarms to build one of the biggest salmon factories in the world in Belfast. In that column, I cited a number of misrepresentations made by Nordic. There are more.

At a Feb. 21 public meeting, Nordic made a PowerPoint presentation that showed one of its existing fish factories located in a residential area, and Nordic CEO Erik Heim said the factory's residential neighbors had no problem with the plant. Soothing, reassuring words. And misleading. Left unsaid is that Nordic's proposed Belfast factory would be more than five times as big as either of Nordic's existing fish factories.

In its Belfast promotional material, Nordic states that "The land in question has few neighbors." It's more than a few. There are 12 residential homes on Perkins Road alone, and that doesn't count homes on Route 1, Herrick Road, South Congress Street and elsewhere that may be directly affected by truck traffic and other factors associated with the construction and operation of a $450 million to $500 million facility.

And what about those "few" neighbors? Are we to understand that they should sacrifice their neighborhood for the sake of Boston and New York consumers, and for the sake of a for-profit corporation from 3,000 miles away?

Nordic's U.S. operations — which are so far only in Belfast — are incorporated in Delaware. Why would a corporation doing U.S. business only in Maine incorporate in Delaware? Corporations register in Delaware because Delaware shields corporations from liability more than other states. Is Nordic expecting liability problems? At the Feb. 21 public meeting, Erik Heim said Nordic wanted to be a good neighbor. Wouldn't a good neighbor incorporate here in Maine and follow Maine law, as local businesses do?

Nordic is not the only one aggressively pushing this fish factory. The mayor, the City Council, city government, the Belfast Water District, Gov. LePage and even Maine's congressional delegation have been there every step of the way. But don't take my word for it. A Jan. 30 Nordic press release quotes Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge as saying, "...we all worked hard to get an agreement completed on a rather accelerated timetable."

Exactly. An accelerated timetable, before key questions are answered — and before citizen cries for more time and real due diligence reach a level too high to ignore.

Nordic has signed a purchase and sale agreement to buy 26 acres from the Belfast Water District. The Water District's website calls the district a "quasi-public" entity, and according to Belfast Code and Planning Director Wayne Marshall, the Water District is controlled by, and answers only to, the state Public Utilities Commission.

But the Water District is not a private corporation. All surplus ratepayer revenue goes toward future maintenance, not private profit. It is a de facto public entity, whether it's called that or not. It belongs to the people, and the people should decide whether its assets are sold to a private, for-profit corporation, with resultant degradation of public spaces such as the Little River Trail.

There has been no public discussion in this community about selling off a chunk of this treasured public recreation space known to some as the Belfast Woods. And as guardian of the public interest, the Public Utilities Commission leaves much to be desired, as exhibited by, among other things, the 2017 state solar bill debacle, in which the PUC kicked to the curb all public, environmental and even economic concerns in favor of thoroughly corporate, fossil-fuel interests.

The Nordic factory would shrink the Little River Trail corridor to a width of 250 feet, less than the length of a football field, and Code and Planning Director Marshall seems to think we should be grateful for the 250 feet. The trail is only 10 or 12 feet wide, Marshall said in conversation with me. Is this the due diligence we keep hearing about?

But Belfast city officials aren't the only ones who have discarded due diligence. Gov. LePage and all of the 2nd District's congressional delegation have piled on. In a January 30 press release, Nordic quotes LePage, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, and Rep. Bruce Poliquin praising the fish factory.

That was fully four months ago, and still unanswered are many questions that should be answered before our purported representatives weigh in on a $450 million to $500 million project that could profoundly transform our small community. And given the considerable environmental problems experienced by fish factories around the world, these statements, made with inadequate information, are nothing short of reckless and cavalier.

Praising a proposed fish factory they know next to nothing about. Easy for them to do — they don't live here.

Some cite Nordic's Norwegian roots and Norway's environmental record as reasons for supporting the Belfast fish factory. But Norway's factory fish industry is fraught with environmental problems, and Norway's general environmental record doesn't necessarily extend to its companies' overseas operations.

To cite but one example, Norway's Marine Harvest, the world's biggest salmon producer and owner of Belfast's Ducktrap River seafood wholesaler, knowingly transferred to open-water pens salmon infected with piscine reovirus (PRV), a virus that started in Norwegian fish factories. The virus is associated with heart and muscle inflammation, and the transfer put at risk British Columbia's wild salmon population.

"They've been unable to control it (PRV)," said Canadian American marine biologist and researcher Alexandra Morton, who is suing the Canadian government for allowing the transfer. Environmental lawyer Margot Venton likened the actions of Marine Harvest to playing Russian roulette with wild salmon populations.

As this column goes to press, the City Council will vote June 5 on an ordinance amendment that would allow Nordic to build structures taller than currently allowed. If only the mayor and City Council represented this community as well as they do the executives and stockholders of less-than-forthcoming fish-factory corporations from 3,000 miles away.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist living in Belfast.


Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.