Planning Board looks at wildlife, wetlands in Nordic application

By Kendra Caruso | Oct 17, 2019
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Members of Belfast Planning Board discuss the Nordic Aquafarms permit application Oct. 9 at UMaine Hutchinson Center.

Belfast — The Planning Board discussed natural resources, wetlands, streams, vernal pools and flooding in conjunction with Nordic Aquafarms’ permit application Oct. 16. Opponents argued for more site research to assess the impact on vulnerable species and ecosystems.

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 at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center.

Wildlife biologist Sarah Barnum, a consultant for Nordic, made two site visits and said most of the wildlife species found are common wildlife. Most species are mobile and can easily move to similar habitats outside the project, she said.

Potential impact on wildlife

She found no signs of beavers near the site on either of her visits. But a resident who frequents the area said she sees signs of beavers on area trees and does not know how Barnum missed signs of the animals.

Barnum said there may be some mobile bat species around the property that may visit the site during construction. Nordic has plans to work from October to April, after the bats have migrated, which will reduce negative bat impact, she said.

One resident asked who would monitor Nordic to ensure it was working within that period. Director of Codes and Planning Wayne Marshall said the state could require Nordic to hire an independent party to check on construction and monitor its compliance with the permit.

Susie O’Keeffe, a board member of opposition group Upstream Watch, said the northern long-eared bat is a threatened species being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It lives and hibernates in Maine.

“The idea that we can destroy habitat and it’s not going to have a significant impact may have been acceptable 50 years ago,” O’Keeffe said.

Some bat species return to the same trees after hibernation, and removing those trees would jeopardize breeding and stress the animals, she said, noting that any habitat loss is significant because of climate-related declining ecosystems.

O'Keeffe requested a four-season study of affected wildlife and habitat, rather than relying on data gathered in only two site visits.

According to Barnum, the Nordic plan would have no impact on inland wetland and wading bird habitat, but would have a temporary impact on tidal wetland and wading bird habitat during construction. She said site habitat loss would have a minor impact on local birds and mammals.

Abutter Ellie Daniels countered there are 52 species of birds on the Little River Trail, which runs beside Nordic’s property, and said some coastal wading birds would be affected by placement and construction of the discharge pipe.

Barnum did not study the possible impact on freshwater fish; she focused on marine fish species, including endangered Atlantic salmon, shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon — which, by law, cannot be significantly affected, according to Nordic project director Ed Cotter.

The project will use a specific type of one-inch mesh over the intake water pipe to prevent wildlife from being sucked in. Board member Daisy Beal was concerned that the mesh wouldn’t protect smaller fish and larvae. Cotter assured her that velocity regulations minimize fish deaths in pipes.

The discharge pipe into the bay will be raised one foot from the ocean floor so lobsters and other creatures can efficiently pass and to eliminate habitat reduction.

O’Keeffe said that site discharge into the bay could negatively affect sensitive fish and birds and requested more research be done on behalf of wildlife.

Wetlands, streams, vernal pools

Barnum spoke about the project's impact on wetlands, streams and vernal pools. She said "several site visits" determined there are no vernal pools (small seasonal bodies of water) on the property, but did not say how many site visits were made or by whom.

O’Keeffe criticized data gathered in 2018 because it was the third year of a statewide drought and data might be different in years with average rainfall.

Between two site visits, Barnum found 17 wetlands that were mostly forested and 10 streams. Most of the wetlands and streams on the property will be filled in or rerouted.

She said the waters are not used by significant wildlife and current species can move into other wetlands just outside the property.

One stream on the east side will be expanded and reinforced to compensate for the removal of other wetlands, but Nordic will still have to pay a fine that goes toward restoration of other water bodies in the county, Cotter noted.

O'Keeffe argued that, for a development that requires so much water, it is important to keep the wetlands because they add to groundwater discharge and refill. She said the carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of eliminating those waters cannot be removed.

Wetlands almost never recover after removal, she said, saying restoration is especially difficult in cold, small and isolated areas.

Beal asked whether the state would consider removal of one or both Little River dams as compensation for removing wetlands. Cotter said the state rejected the idea of compensating by removing the smaller dam, but said he did not ask about removing both dams as compensation; nor does Nordic plan to do so.

The company rejected the idea of removing the dams in the future, Cotter said. Nordic has two years to decide if it wants to buy the dams.

Cotter said Nordic wanted to keep wetlands compensation local, but the company’s hands are tied because there is no Belfast project that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection would consider.

Flooding

Nathan Dill of Ransom Consulting evaluated flood risks on the property and found that the majority of the development would be centrally located on the property, away from floodplains.

Land information to determine flood risks was taken from historic data that does not consider sea-level rise. It is unclear whether Nordic will consider that information in the future.

There was no public comment on flooding.

No date has been set for the next special Planning Board meeting on the Nordic application, but Marshall said it will be in November.



 

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