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Upstream Watch’s Proposal to the City of Belfast and Belfast Community

For more than five years, Upstream Watch has worked to help the public, and local and state officials understand the enormous ecological, economic and cultural impacts Nordic Aquafarms’ salmon aquaculture operation would have in Belfast and Penobscot Bay. Because the science didn’t add up, and because Nordic was less than transparent throughout the process, Upstream Watch continues to litigate, holding Nordic and state and local government officials accountable to existing environmental standards and other laws and regulations and, ultimately, to prevent this poorly conceived project from ever breaking ground.

While we have been successful in holding back the project thus far, it could still be years before we reach resolution through the court system. While Upstream Watch believes we will eventually prevail, the organization realizes that as long as the Little River property is not permanently protected, this land will be faced with similar proposals that will put Penobscot Bay, the Little River and the Belfast community at risk.

As a result, Upstream Watch is offering the City and Nordic a resolution that would end all litigation, offer the City a number of economic and financial benefits, permanently protect the land surrounding the Little River and public access to that green space, and allow Nordic to recover some of their costs. 

The Offer to the City of Belfast

Upstream Watch, through our attorneys, initially approached the City of Belfast this past fall, and followed up with a written proposal to the Belfast City Council via the Belfast City Attorney on December 20, 2023. The offer included the following components:

  • Upstream will arrange for a non-profit to take over from the City the responsibility for improving and making safe the upper and lower Little River dams, and will lead the effort needed to raise funds and grants for the required work on the dams. This would relieve Belfast of the liability of two aging dams and the necessary capital improvements, saving Belfast at least $1,000,000 per dam.

  • Upstream will buy from Nordic all of Nordic’s land on the non-ocean side of Route 1 for cost, dollar for dollar.

  • Upstream will create a public park on the former Nordic land for the benefit of Belfast residents and others, at no expense of construction or maintenance to the City of Belfast.

The entire written offer can be seen by clicking the file below:

Offer Letter and Attachments
Download PDF • 22.16MB

This offer comes at a time when the City of Belfast is preparing to devote significant time and financial resources to consider Upstream Watch’s appeal of the Planning Board permits granted to Nordic. While Nordic owns the land on the non-ocean side of Route 1 adjacent to the Little River and would need to be willing to sell to Upstream Watch, the City of Belfast has the ability to revoke the Planning Board permits due to Nordic’s lack of Title, Right, and Interest to the intertidal land. Without the Planning Board permits, the project cannot move forward.

The offer letter outlines why this project will never be built. The Maine Supreme Court determined that Nordic has no pathway over the former Eckrote land or the intertidal land to Penobscot Bay for its water intake and wastewater discharge pipes; Nordic’s lack of right, title and interest in the intertidal land has resulted in its state permits being suspended and/or revoked, and the City’s eminent domain taking will not survive the legal challenges, both constitutional and statutory. 

City of Belfast Map:

A Vision for the Land and Water that Meets Future Needs

We are proposing a forward thinking vision for this land, the Little River and the Penobscot Bay that positively addresses Belfast’s economic need to maintain a healthy working waterfront, climate resiliency, thriving tourist industry and local economy, and address failing infrastructure needs. Every community, but especially coastal towns like Belfast, must actively prepare for the consequences of the climate crisis. Promoting dynamic, appropriately scaled economic development that supports and enhances effective environmental conservation of carbon sequestering woodlands, wetlands and waters is indispensable to tackling the coming challenges of the climate crisis.

Commercial fishing and tourism are crucial components of the Belfast economy. Industrial dischargers like Nordic threaten the health of the fisheries, raise the temperature of an already rapidly warming Bay while threatening the livelihoods of fishermen and local businesses that rely on ecological health and scenic beauty of the Penobscot Bay, and the City as a whole. 

Tourism and summer residents are the backbone of Belfast’s economy. People come to this town because of its iconic coastal beauty.  The Little River’s lower forest, the river and historic Water District building together are arguably one of the most beautiful “gateways” into a coastal Maine town.

The Upper and Little River dams are a liability to the City of Belfast. These dams are aging and in disrepair, and in need of improvement to be made secure. With Upstream Watch offering to relieve the City of Belfast of the liability of these two aging dams and the necessary capital improvements, we estimate saving Belfast at least $1,000,000 per dam.

Preservation of an Ecological Gem

The beauty of the Little River gateway, and its community hiking trail and swimming holes provides an indispensable natural area that encompasses:

  • 35 acres of mature, carbon sequestering forest 

  • 19 wetlands, five of which are wetlands of special significance

  • 9 streams

  • Two types of Natural Resources Protection Act designated Significant Wildlife Habitat

    • Inland Waterfowl/Wading Bird Habitat (IWWH), and 

    • Tidal Waterfowl and Wading Bird Habitat (TWWH)

  • Open meadowland 

The area as a whole also provides one of the last undeveloped habitat connections from the Bay to upland habitat, critical for migrating birds, larger mammals, and food and shelter that is essential for overwintering species. 

The forest and the river trail are an integral part of Belfast, and a special place for all members of the community.  Protecting this forest, and all of the gifts it provides, is also protecting the health and well being of the people. It is well known that in addition to all of the economic and ecological benefits of intact ecosystems such as the Little River, the need for green spaces for human well-being, especially that of our children, is indispensable. Fewer and fewer communities can boast such ecological gems right in the heart of their community. To preserve such a unique ecosystem would set Belfast apart both as a summer destination and as a place to live.

Working Towards Climate Resiliency Preserving this land, instead of developing it into a large-scale industrial discharging facility will preserve carbon storage, help mitigate flooding, and protect critical fresh and saltwater ecosystems:

  • This forest and wetlands currently store, at a minimum, ~13,465 metric tons of carbon.

  • The forest is sequestering, at a minimum, ~142.9 metric tons of carbon each year.  

  • Wetlands play a key role in reducing storm damage and protecting against floods. 

    • Wetlands act like sponges, absorbing significant amounts of rainwater and runoff before flooding can occur.

    • Wetlands are carbon sinks, storing and sequestering carbon in their plants and soils. 

    • Wetlands are some of the most important endangered ecosystems on the planet.

  • Healthy, carbon sequestering forests and wetlands are the first line of defense against extreme weather events including flooding, but also drought.

  • Protecting fresh and saltwater ecosystems protects water sources and quality.

  • Climatically resilient communities are economically resilient communities.

The City of Belfast Needs to Hear from You!

The 30-day deadline on the offer passed without a formal response from the City on whether or not they wish to pursue this form of resolution. Upstream Watch remains open to discussing this settlement offer, and working towards resolution of years long legal proceedings with an outcome that will benefit Belfast, its residents, and the waters of the Little River and Penobscot Bay.

The Belfast City Council needs to hear from their constituents about this. We are requesting people reach out to the City Council, showing support for this proposal, and urging them to consider it as the path forward.

Need help getting started? Download the letter template below, and modify as needed.

Your City Councilors can be reached here:

Ward 2, Neal Harkness:   

Ward 3, Brenda Bonneville:

Ward 4, Christopher Bitely:

Letter Template to City Council
Download DOCX • 8KB

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