Belfast Councilors Look To Eminent Domain To End Fish Farm Dispute
The battle over a land-based fish factory proposed for Belfast took a new turn this week. The city council Tuesday night signaled it's intent to use eminent domain to help the developers find a path to the sea for the project's treated fish waste.
At a Tuesday night meeting councilors voted unanimously to pursue the takeover of properties near an intertidal area whose true ownership is being disputed in court. Nordic Aquafarms, which wants to build a $500 million fish farm in the city, recently bought 2.75 acres next to the intertidal parcel and turned it over to the city.
Councilors say by that by taking over other adjoining properties they can end the legal dispute over who has authority to allow Nordic to run an effluent pipe across the intertidal zone and into Belfast Bay. The move was condemned by project opponents, including members of the Friends of the Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, which owns one of the parcels being eyed by the council.
"I think they have known since at least April that a court case might not go in Nordic's favor, and they needed to try and have a plan B, however shaky it might turn out to be," says Andy Stevenson, a spokesman for the conservation area.
Councilors say that after years of controversy, several municipal elections and a string of state and local permit approvals, it's time to move the project forward so the city can reap the tax, job and other benefits it presents. A final vote on the eminent domain question is set for later this month after a public hearing.
"The bottom line is that after three and half years this has gone on three and half years," says councilor Michael Hurley. "The opposition has lost every single legal battle. Their entire approach was it didn't matter if they win, they were going to exhaust Nordic through time and money."
Opponents say they will ask that city now be named in the pending court suit.