Planning Board discusses Nordic noise, odor, lights and emissions

By Kendra Caruso | Oct 11, 2019
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Belfast Planning Board discusses noise, odor, lights and emissions at its Oct. 9 special meeting about Nordic Aquafarms' permit application.

Belfast — At the Planning Board’s ninth special meeting reviewing Nordic Aquafarms’ project application, it discussed project lights, odors, noise and emissions. Chairman Steve Ryan recused himself from the vote again, so temporary Chairman Declan O’Connor took his place.

Nordic is proposing a large land-based salmon farm near the Belfast/Northport line. It has submitted a lengthy application to the city that the Planning Board is addressing in a series of meetings.

The most discussed topic Oct. 9 was noise. Nordic’s principal acoustic consultant, James Barnes, spoke about how the project intends to reduce noise from construction and equipment.

The engineer made noise-level predictions based on Nordic's information about the equipment that will be used and how sound will be muffled. Construction noise levels will not exceed 60 dBA, Barnes said.

State law limits frequent noise to 55 dBA — A-weighted decibels —  from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and to 45 dBA from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to maine.gov. This does not apply to construction activity, traffic and emergency vehicle sirens.

Belfast allows noise up to 75 dBA in one consecutive eight-hour period. Construction may peak up to 115 dBA for no longer than 60 minutes in 24 hours, according to city zoning regulations.

Project Director Edward Cotter said Nordic's construction noise will be below both the state and city limits. The project goal is to stay within the stricter state standards and complete most construction between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., he said.

A board member asked if operating multiple pieces of equipment at once would increase the noise level. Barnes said it would increase by up to 3 dBA, which, according to him, is unnoticeable to the human ear. But a 3-dBA increase is just noticeable, according to information on maine.gov.

The engineer estimated that the noise of regulated equipment, used for daily business operations, will not exceed the state regulated daytime level of 55 dBA and the nighttime level of 45 dBA.

The noise will come from electric motors, water pumps, fans, filters, water flow, boilers, chillers and engine-driven electric generators, all inside “industrial grade” buildings, according to Nordic. Barnes described the sound as a louder bathroom fan.

“Take your bathroom fan and scale it up a bit,” he said.

Nordic intends to use silencing technology to reduce the noise, but environmental engineer Michael Lannin, speaking for Upstream Watch, a group opposing the Nordic project, said silencing grades can vary widely, and the company did not specify a silencing grade. He asked if truck noises had been considered in the regulated equipment noise model.

Lannin argued that the project should be examined in phases because of its scale. He criticized the project for not specifying the types of equipment used, which can vary in noise.

Director of Codes and Planning Wayne Marshall was hesitant to require Nordic to use specific brands of equipment. He said that if the bid standard is met, then the city will know what equipment is being used.

One Belfast resident was concerned about possible noise and dust from trucks carrying the 1 to 3 billion cubic feet of clay to be removed over two years of construction.

Another resident was worried about the psychological damage that noise can cause to people and wildlife. She talked about links that tie prolonged construction noise to wildlife habitat disruption, as well as increased drug use, depression and other psychological reactions in people. She was concerned that endangered species like the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat might be affected by the project noise.

An abutter was concerned that seasonal changes would increase the intensity of construction noise when air molecules are closer together and trees are bare.

Most of the noise will be in the center of the property, Cotter said. A berm, or raised bank, is not possible because it would interfere with stormwater runoff. He added that he intends to set up communication with neighbors about construction times.

Odor mitigation

The board went on to discuss odors. Production Manager Carter Cyr discussed plans for addressing causes of odors on the property.

He identified three primary sources of operational odors — filtrate, fish processing byproducts and fish mortalities. Cyr said the company intends to reuse the majority of the waste it creates.

The primary reuse for filtrate, organic material from the company’s filtration system, is biogas and compost. The company intends to transport the filtrate by truck. It will be funneled into underground storage tanks for three days. Nordic will contract with waste removal companies to transport the materials offsite without releasing odors.

The company will store fish that die in a light acid that will not fully decompose the fish, but will turn into a sludge to reduce odor. The survival rate of farmed fish, from egg to maturity, is 80% to 90%, according to Cotter.

Nordic will process the fish whole or as fillets and deliver them in air-controlled trucks for long-distance travel or trucks without air control for short-distance deliveries. Buildings will have negative air pressure to prevent odor from leaving through open doors, Cotter said.

Lannin argued that odor dispersion should be examined and would require the facility to have odor control everywhere.

Attorney David Losee, who represents Upstream Watch, tried to address the board after Lannin reached his 10-minute limit, but O’Connor would not allow Losee to speak more on the group's behalf.

The crowd and board members objected, but Losee walked away, saying, “Let them do it, let them do it.”

Fish processing byproducts will be used for pet food, bait and nutritional supplements. Processing will take place at the center of the property and will have to adhere to FDA rules and inspections, Cotter said.

The company intends to recycle and reuse all construction, office and hazardous waste. All odor sources will be disposed of in a landfill as a last resort. Site sediments didn’t contain much mercury when tested, but the company can use a type of sediment to prevent mercury runoff, according to Cotter.

A resident asked if intertidal zone sediments were being considered in the waste removal. The question was not addressed by Nordic representatives.

Lighting, air emissions

The last subject discussed was lighting and air emissions. Exterior lighting will use LED technology at 3,000 K. The back buildings will have motion sensors. The lights are approved through the International Dark-Sky Association to reduce light pollution.

Lights situated on the property will be 20 feet high, but there will be 12-foot pedestrian lighting along the street.

Cotter said most headlights will be shielded by property structures, but not all. Nordic intends to have two work shifts, with the possibility of a third. He said most deliveries will take place during daylight hours.

Air emissions are considered minor, according to Cotter. The facility will use ultra-low-sulfur diesel with three types of filters to run generators and other operations.

The generators necessary for production during power outages cannot be powered by batteries alone, according to Cotter. He said natural gas was not available through local companies.

Board member Daisy Beal questioned Nordic’s use of diesel instead of renewable energy sources. Cotter said it is not possible to completely operate a facility of this size on renewable energy in Maine. He said the company would have to establish its own solar farm to provide enough energy, and Nordic does not want to do so.

The solar panels will cover only 10% of general energy consumption, Cotter said after the meeting. The company might look into purchasing renewable energy from Central Maine Power Co. to reduce its use of fossil fuels, he added.

Nordic is excited about where green technology is going and hopes to increase its renewable energy use in the future, Cotter said.

A public hearing on lights and emissions was rescheduled for a later date. The Planning Board’s next special meeting is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center.

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