In a recent article from the Portland Press Herald, Nordic Aquafarms reaffirmed their commitment to building their Belfast salmon factory farm despite the many legal setbacks they experienced in 2023. To put in perspective just how many obstacles Nordic will need to overcome to actually make this project a reality, here is the long list of hurdles they will need to clear:
1. Nordic does not have, nor did they ever have, access to Penobscot Bay.
In order for Nordic to be able to build their project, they need access to the Bay for their discharge and intake pipes. In February 2023, the Maine Supreme Court issued its decision in the Mabee I quiet title action holding that Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace are the owners of a disputed parcel of intertidal land Nordic intended to run their discharge and intake pipes through. To get around the rightful landowners blocking Nordic’s access to the Bay, the City of Belfast “took” this intertidal land using its power of eminent domain. Upstream Watch filed a lawsuit in Court challenging Belfast’s “taking” as illegal under state law and under both the state and federal constitution. The power of eminent domain is intended to be used for the public good, not for the benefit of a private business. In that litigation, Upstream’s lawyers are joined by Wesley Horton, a Connecticut lawyer who successfully argued the Kelo v. New London eminent domain case before the United States Supreme Court. In October 2023, the Superior Court judge remanded the eminent domain case back to the Belfast City Council.
2. Use restrictions on upland and intertidal land
The Maine Supreme Court’s February 2023 decision also held that a “residential purposes only” deed restriction on an upland parcel, as well as the conservation easement on the intertidal land held by the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area are enforceable.
3. Nordic’s submerged lands and dredge leases were rescinded by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands
In September 2023, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands rescinded its September 2020 decision to grant Nordic a submerged lands lease and a dredging lease as a result of the Mabee I decision. Nordic needs these leases in order to construct their discharge and intake pipes into Penobscot Bay.
4. Nordic’s permits were suspended by DEP’s Commissioner
Following the Supreme Court’s Mabee I decision, in June of 2023, the DEP Commissioner issued a Suspension Order suspending Nordic’s Air License and Natural Resources Protection Act/Site Law Permit.
5. Appeal of the Belfast Planning Board Permits Issued to Nordic
In August 2023, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that a lower court erred when it upheld the Belfast Board of Zoning Appeals’ (ZBA) decision that Upstream Watch lacked standing to appeal permits issued by the Belfast Planning Board to Nordic. The Court remanded the case back to the ZBA where Upstream will have an opportunity to present our case challenging the substance of these permits. The ZBA convened in December 2023, and outlined a schedule for brief filings and hearings that will begin this month.
6. Appeal of BEP’s October decision
In October 2023, the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) unanimously found the Maine Supreme Court’s February 2023 decision does not impact the approval of permits issued to Nordic Aquafarms in November 2020. BEP further stated they did not have the authority to rescind or amend permits once issued, only the DEP Commissioner can do that. On October 31, 2023, though, the Commissioner dismissed petitions by Upstream and others to revoke Nordic’s permits. In response to BEP’s decision, and the Commissioner’s refusal to revoke Nordic’s permits, Upstream Watch filed an appeal of both Nordic’s permits, and BEP’s remand decision in Kennebec County Superior Court this November.
Nordic will need to win and/or resolve all of the above issues – which could take years – to break ground on this project. And while Nordic has repeatedly stated they are committed to seeing through all of these processes, the reality is they are a company that makes decisions based on dollars. With no production of fish, and mounting legal costs for them, we believe it’s only a matter of time before they cut their losses.