Belfast Salmon Farm Wins Key Environmental Permits

Nov 19, 2020

A controversial land-based salmon farm proposed in Belfast won three key state environmental permits on Thursday, but opponents say they are far from giving up.

The Nordic Aquafarms facility would produce 30,000 metric tons of salmon a year at a roughly 55-acre campus near Belfast Bay. In the process it would draw about 5,200 gallons of fresh and saltwater a minute and discharge some 7.7 million gallons of filtered wastewater a day into the bay.

In an online meeting, the Board Environmental Protection approved permits for impacts on air and water quality, including discharges to the bay. But not without conflict.

“We have been denied the right to supplement the record, whereas Nordic has been allowed to supplement this record repeatedly since the record allegedly closed,” says Kim Tucker, an attorney who has represented project opponents in various forums.

Tucker made it clear that the new permits would get an administrative appeal, a first step toward challenging them in court.

Other opponents say that while some 38 specific conditions regulators included in the permits may add an extra layer of protection for the bay, the project is still not as environmentally sensitive as it should be. They say nitrates and other substances, as well as temperature variations in the discharge water pose an unwarranted threat to marine ecosystems, lobster harvests, shellfish farms and human health.

But an aquaculture scientist from the University of New England, Barry Costa-Pierce, testified that the project was exceeding industry norms for filtering discharge, while the material would be substantially diluted by Penobscot Bay’s daily tide turnovers of 2.5 trillion gallons of water a day.

Nordic Aquafarms CEO Erik Heim, meanwhile, says he is hopeful that after three years of work and with just a handful of other approvals still needed, the project can move toward groundbreaking by spring.

“The only reason we are still in Belfast is because elected officials and a lot of support remain in Belfast so I guess it’s hard to make everyone happy every time, but we’ll try. We’ll keep trying,” he says.

An Army Corps of Engineers permit is still pending, while a court battle continues over who owns an intertidal property where Nordic is seeking a crossing easement for its discharge pipe.