A computer rendering of the proposed Nordic Aquafarms site in Belfast. The company is preparing to apply for permits, with hopes of starting construction in spring of 2019. Credit: Courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

The chief executive officer and founder of Nordic Aquafarms, the Norwegian-based company seeking to open a controversial land-based salmon farm in Belfast, is moving to Maine.

Here, Erik Heim will take the position of president of Nordic Aquafarms, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the Norwegian parent company, and will lead its U.S. operations, according to a release issued Tuesday by Nordic Aquafarms.

Corporate offices for the subsidiary will be located in Portland, with an office open in downtown Belfast while officials are working toward getting the farm permitted and built. Heim and Marianne Naess, his wife and the company’s director of operations, are planning to divide their time between the two Maine cities.

“We must ensure good execution of our corporate plans and our large undertaking in the U.S.,” Heim said in Tuesday’s release.

He will be replaced as CEO of Nordic Aquafarms by Bernt Olav Rottingsnes, who will continue to work on the company’s expansion plans in Norway. Those include starting the European nation’s first commercial land-based salmon farm, Fredrikstad Seafoods, at the end of 2018.

In Belfast, Nordic Aquafarms is proposing to build one of the world’s largest indoor salmon farms, which will produce 33,000 tons of Atlantic salmon per year. The indoor recirculating aquaculture system would be built in a wooded area off Route 1 near the Northport town line on land that was partly owned by the city’s water district and partly by a private owner.

The company expects to have about 50 employees by the time it completes its first construction phase in 2020 or 2021. That number could exceed 100 several years later once all phases are finished.

Supporters tout the jobs, revenue and efficient protein they believe the project would create. But outspoken opponents of the project, some of whom have filed a lawsuit against the city in connection with the fish farm, believe the project is too big and the technology too uncertain for Belfast.

Still, the company is beginning to move forward with its application. Last week, Nordic issued a formal notice that it intends to file a wastewater discharge permit application with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in mid-October. Prior to the filing, the company will hold a public informational meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

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