A Norway-based company's proposal to build a land-based salmon farm in Belfast has been the topic of heated debate in the midcoast city for two years. Now Nordic Aquafarms is entering a high-stakes phase of the project, as state regulators consider its permit requests.
The permits would allow Nordic Aquafarms to discharge effluent into Belfast Bay, to draw water from local sources, and to disturb wetlands for construction of the proposed 850,000-square-foot facility.
More than 100 people turned out in Belfast Tuesday night for a public hearing on the proposal, held by the state's Bureau of Environmental Protection.
The company plans to build a “recirculating aquaculture system” that would produce as much as 30,000 metric tons of salmon a year.
But most who spoke during Tuesday night’s public comment period at the University of Maine's Hutchinson Center consider it an industrial factory whose effluent discharges to Belfast Bay would harm area lobster, scallop and other fisheries.
Resident Susan Cutting said that decades after the demise of Belfast’s water-side chicken processing plants, the bay is showing real signs of recovery.
“It’s unthinkable to me to allow our bay to be harmed again," Cutting said. "I won’t want my son to swim in the water, in the effluent, and I have to ask you: Would you want your children to swim in that?”
Residents also raised fears that the facility would deplete local groundwater supplies and destroy more than 20 acres of land that now are part of a wilderness getaway for many. They included Cutting’s 10-year-old son, Walden Merkle-Cutting.
“I’ve seen many signs of beavers and other species of wildlife that live and thrive there, and all species of animals deserve to have a habitat,” he said.
But a few supporters stepped to the podium as well. Among them was Larissa Flimlin, who said she and her husband were planning to build their dream retirement home two years ago when they learned that the salmon farm would be built close by. They decided to move ahead anyway.
“Our consideration was that this was a good thing for Belfast, and we could not oppose something that was good for the town,” she said.
Local officials have also supported the proposal, citing its potential to boost the tax base and create jobs. And company officials said the farm will help reduce carbon-dioxide emissions when bringing salmon to American consumers because the fish won't have to be shipped from overseas.
Opponents challenge that analysis, saying Nordic Aquafarm’s “recirculating aquaculture system” is by itself highly energy-intensive.
Opponents are also challenging Nordic Aquafarms’ plan to discharge effluent into Belfast Bay, and to draw water from local sources. The state hearings continue through Thursday, with testimony from legal parties to the case.
Nordic Aquafarms is also seeking a federal wetlands permit.
Originally published 6:55 a.m. Feb. 12, 2020