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Salmon farm opponents urge Planning Board to press 'reset button'

Board postpones deliberation until Aug. 22
By Ethan Andrews | Aug 16, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Ethan Hughes of Belfast asks the crowd to get behind him to speak beyond his allotted time at an Aug. 16 hearing about zoning for Nordic Aquafarms while Margot Carpenter of the Planning Board, right, tries to convince him to yield the floor.

Belfast — Opponents of a proposed $150 million land-based salmon farm on Aug. 15 asked city officials to "restart," "reset," and "press the reset button" on the process that paved the way for the facility.

A public hearing on Wednesday night came in response to a lawsuit by two Belfast residents, Ellie Daniels and Donna Broderick, who allege the City Council skipped required steps in a rush to approve zoning changes to accommodate the developer, Nordic Aquafarms.

Nordic Aquafarms inked land deals earlier this year to buy 42 acres near Little River for the salmon farm. The facility would be one of the largest land-based aquaculture facilities in the world and is projected to produce 33,000 tons of salmon each year for markets on the East Coast.

The company has touted land-based aquaculture as a more environmentally responsible alternative to ocean pen farming, and the City Council has endorsed the project for the tax revenue it is expected to bring.

Opponents have focused on potential threat to groundwater supplies and the effect of wastewater discharged into the bay.

In April, the City Council approved zoning amendments that got the ball rolling for the fish farm. However, Daniels and Broderick contend the Planning Board is legally required to weigh in on proposed zoning changes and hold a public hearing first. Additionally, they say the new zoning is inconsistent with the city's comprehensive plan, which was then revised after the fact.

The error is significant, they say, because it came at a time when residents were asking the city to slow down the approval process to allow more time for public debate. City Attorney Bill Kelly has said the case could take years to make its way through the courts, but on Wednesday attorney Bruce McGlauflin, who represents Daniels and Broderick, said it could be settled sooner, "or expedited."

City officials have acknowledged that they skipped steps but say the missing meetings, including the public hearing on Wednesday, can be made up after the fact. Several speakers on Wednesday argued that the Planning Board, taking up the question now, would feel pressured to affirm the vote already taken by the council.

City Attorney Kelly and City Planner Wayne Marshall at the public hearing Wednesday night tried to head off some concerns of opponents, who appeared to make up the majority of the 150 people in attendance.

Kelly said the Planning Board's role is "not political." Marshall noted that most of the zoning changes approved in April are consistent with nearby districts or — in the case of setbacks, buffer zones and impervious surface limits — more restrictive.

"We do not view it internally as that much of an expansion from what's out there," he said.

Additionally, he said, new performance standards for significant groundwater wells and significant water intake and discharge from the bay, would give the Planning Board authority to regulate aspects of a project that previously were outside its jurisdiction.

Public comments from 23 attendees, 18 of whom either wanted to restart the zoning process or outright opposed the Nordic Aquafarms plan, ran close to three hours. Marshall said the city received 22 written comments before the meeting. Several speakers identified themselves as having also submitted written comments.

Amid familiar faces of opponents who have spoken past public hearings were several younger residents, recently arrived in Belfast and new to the Nordic Aquafarms debate, who voiced concerns about the global implications of the project.

Samantha Langlois referred to Nestle's water extraction in Maine and the state's weak water laws and urged the board not to give the city's resources to an international corporation. Langlois said her family hails from Belfast but moved away when the bay was filled with pollution from poultry processing plants. She moved back to the area two years ago expecting that Belfast would be a place for her children to stay when they grow up, "not leave."

Ethan Hughes, who moved to the city two months ago, sat his young daughter on the lectern at the center of the middle school cafeteria and said the city is pursuing money at the expense of water, which has become scarce in some parts of the world.

"What would we rather have, money or water?" he asked. "Nordic Aquafarms knows freshwater is scarce. They're not dumb. They're a multimillion-dollar company. They're coming to Waldo County to get our fresh water … When we are thirsty and need to grow food, we will realize money is useless."

When Hughes had used his allotted five minutes, he argued with moderator Margot Carpenter of the Planning Board, and appealed to the crowd that he should have more time to speak.

Members of the audience cheered in approval, and Hughes said it was "the will of the people" that he should speak longer, adding that Carpenter could "bring the police in and arrest me if you want." When Hughes continued, the crowd turned on him. After some protesting, he handed over the microphone.

Planning Board Chairman Steve Ryan, who recused himself from deliberations, spoke at the meeting on behalf of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce where he is the executive director. Ryan said the chamber is not taking an official position on the Nordic Aquafarms proposal, but he said he would be concerned if the board decided to take an "emotional" stance toward large corporations or GMOs.

Maria Jacobs and Neil Davis, a couple who are new to the area, said they had seen what big industry has done in other places. Jacobs urged a "restart." Davis said he has "watched big industry devour life as we know it on this planet," and was initially turned off but now has found a calling in resistance.

The Planning Board postponed deliberations until its next regular meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, with the location to be determined. City Planner Wayne Marshall said the decision was made before the hearing to clear the decks for public comments.

That news appeared to upset some in attendance, but the meeting adjourned without incident.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the amount of salmon to be produced at the Nordic Aquafarms facility in Belfast.

Ellie Daniels, plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city, speaks outside Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast Aug. 16, before a public hearing about zoning changes for the proposed Nordic Aquafarms development. Standing with Daniels are local activist Lawrence Reichard, left, and Daniels' attorney Bruce McGlauflin. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
A public hearing Aug. 15 on zoning changes for the proposed Nordic Aquafarms development drew a crowd of 150 people, including many opponents of the Norwegian company's plan to build a $150 million salmon farm in Belfast. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
A protester holds a sign high at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast during a public hearing Aug. 15 on zoning changes related to Nordic Aquafarms' proposal to build a $150 million aquaculture facility. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Attorney Bruce McGlauflin speaks at a public hearing Aug. 15 representing two Belfast residents in a lawsuit claiming the city made procedural errors when it approved zoning changes for Nordic Aquafarms earlier this year. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
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Comments (9)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 20, 2018 09:15

Crickets from the Searsport Water District.  I was hoping they had answers about the water extraction.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 18, 2018 13:43

I stopped and did some math which I need someone to check for me.  Nordic has done well testing and has stated the land can produce 1200 gallons per minute.  If that is the case let's let the math work.

1200 gallons per minute X 60 minutes an hour =72,000 gallons per hour.

72,000 gallons per hour X 24 hours per day =1,728,000 gallons per day

1,728,000 gallons per day X 365 = 630,720,000 gallons per year.

The water district stated at a public hearing they could produce 500,000,000 without a problem.  I am assuming that some of that 500 million gallons ends up getting filtered back into the ground.  Given there are no ordinances restricting how much water can be removed can the City connect the dots to a rush to build.  Can someone help me find a study that shows how water is controlled when a plant is built with no restrictions of ground water harvested?  After all, "IF" the permits are issued and "IF" the Aqua Farming is unsuccessful, a company such as Nestle/Poland Spring could purchase the property and in court there would be no "change of use as far as the water extraction" from the land, correct?

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 18, 2018 11:25

Does the Searsport Water District stand to gain should the Belfast Water District become dry or are you both pulling from the same aquafir?  I do have concerns of finances, jobs and taxes which all three could be higher given moving the Belfast Water District, and taxes are dependent of investors and success of a one of it's kind facility.  The jobs will happen naturally as people who want to start a business, any type of business, have the will to bring the complete project to fruition no matter who fights them.  If he bails now do you really think the ware with all would have stuck it out?  Would he have one successful harvest of fish and then learn Poland Spring or some other water company wants to buy them out?  If Searsport water district draws from the same water source and they do sell out to Poland Spring or Nestle does Searsport have a way to protect their water source with existing laws?  I don't know the laws on extraction of subsurface water.  Can you help educate me if that scenario should occur?

Posted by: SEARSPORT WATER DISTRICT | Aug 18, 2018 06:58

Is the sky really falling?

How can a man, only a few months in the city, bully and try to control the mic.

Just an observation, Does everyone who is opposed to the salmon farm, have any worries about jobs, finances or taxes.



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 17, 2018 12:54

I completely agree with Ms Keyes that Nordic will not be discharging over board fish guts and the DEP and EPA will have exact guideline numbers for levels allowed.  I believe Nordic has said it would use the waste products and sell them.  I do not know if Nordic is aware of the Belfast code Chapter 14 "Businesses"in Section 351 Line 3 where "Single use bags, including but not limited to"plastic" or "cornstarch" based bags.

Am I wrong in assuming that packaged fish waste could be packaged in something other then "plastic" or "cornstarch"?

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 17, 2018 12:37

What kind of packaging can they use to package this waste that floats within the plastics ban in Belfast.  Or will they be forced to truck the wastes to a packaging plant outside of Belfast?

Posted by: Patricia Keyes | Aug 17, 2018 11:18

The fears that the bay will be full of salmon chum are ridiculous. The Stinson Cannery and the old chicken processing plants and their pollution of our bay were artifacts of the days before canned and bagged PET FOOD. Apparently it never dawned on them in the wake of WWII, and the advent of pre-packaged food, that they could have sold all the waste to other businesses for a profit!

The unused portions of processed fish are now an extremely valuable ingredient in the burgeoning pet food industry!

THERE WILL BE NO FISH GUTS IN THE BAY. They will be frozen in blocks and sold, not only for human-consumable soup stock, but PET FOOD.  Please people. RELAX.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 16, 2018 22:53

Ethan, I probably should have asked this before quoting Mr Reichard's FOIA information.  Have you seen or can you verify the City emails Mr Reichard speaks of.  With a quarter of a million dollar commitment agreement on the line, as Mr Heim has always stated he wants to be up front and keep the community informed.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Aug 16, 2018 22:47

I want to start by saying I personally would like to see the farm built.  That said though, there is one word that Mr Heim stated back in the beginning.  The word is "could" about building a $500,000,000 facility.  The City was selling a $500,000,000 tax generating project to the citizens that now is standing at $150,000,000.  Did the Council base there speedy process on the "could" number or the proposed number?  We are now basing our decisions on 33% of the "could"


I am simple enough that I can not understand why a Nordic email to the City stating   “We(Nordic) are somewhat surprised by the fact that the city is asking for financial records and documentation of investment activity at this late stage, particularly with no good explanation of what is behind this. We have been told that resistance is limited to a few people, so why this move now?” Mr Heim states.  Why did the City wait so long to ask for this information?   Why would the City commit a quarter of a million dollars without financial documentation before signing an agreement committing $240,000 tax dollars towards the project.  It is scary the Council would make an investment without the financial information before signing away a quarter million dollar commitment.  The worst part is it is not fair to potential future businesses entertaining a dream of bring or opening a new business in Belfast.  I feel bad for Mr Heim to have to come up with the financial information that should have been requested up front.


Again I want to state I am for the farm as long as the I's are dotted and the T's are crossed and Nordic abides by the plastic and styrofoam ban.

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