Belfast Planning Board members donned high boots and bug repellant on Wednesday to do a walk-through of the property where Nordic Aquafarms would like to build a land-based salmon farm.
The tour took them through boggy fields, into piney woods and across Route 1 to the waterfront property where the company’s intake and outfall pipelines will be built if the project is permitted and moves forward.
It was the first walk through for board members, who were accompanied by Nordic experts and officials and others from the community and beyond who were interested in seeing the property, too.
“I think it was a really good opportunity to explain the scale and scope of the project,” said Ed Cotter, the project director for the company. “When they’re looking at the drawings, they can better understand it.”
Last month, the Belfast Planning Board received a hefty permit application from the company, which would like to build a $500 million or so fish farm on land by the Little River near the city’s southern border with Northport. The board will hold numerous meetings and hearings on the application, as members consider whether to grant Nordic Aquafarms a site plan permit, a shoreland zoning permit, a significant groundwater well permit, a use permit and zoning permits for water intake and water discharge pipe.
Board members were able to see for themselves how the buildings would be situated on the project site. Right now, land that Nordic would use is still owned by the Belfast Water District, Mathews Bros. Co. and Sam Cassida, but small flags marked the boundaries of the eight separate structures where fish would be raised, water treated and more. The two largest buildings would be about 1,200 feet, or almost a quarter of a mile, long.
Although there is a 100-foot setback from the northern edge of the property to the structures, it was not hard to glimpse a few Perkins Road houses from where Building 1 would be placed. A Nordic official said the company will leave existing trees and other vegetation on a buffer strip in place and also intends to add more plantings to bulk up the buffer.
Board members also saw where Nordic will build a temporary bypass to shunt traffic around Route 1 during the eight weeks or so when the outfall and intake pipes are being placed under the coastal thoroughfare.
Company experts also briefly addressed the question of water use during the walk-through. Nordic has said it will use water from sources including the Belfast Water District, from which the company has agreed to purchase a minimum of 100 million gallons a year for six years, Penobscot Bay and groundwater wells. Elizabeth Ransom of Ransom Consulting in Portland said that Nordic Aquafarms has been and will continue to monitor water usage to make sure that neighbor’s wells, streams and other water sources will not be affected.
“We obviously want to make sure that when we’re pumping we’re not having an impact,” she said.
Keith Pooler, the superintendent of the water district, was at the walk-through and said that the purchase agreement will guarantee revenue and allow the district to make greatly needed improvements to the systems.
“We have 40 miles of water mains and 13 miles of it is at least 100 years old, with some of it being over 130 years old,” he said. “It should be replaced today, if we could afford to do so.”
As well, he said that the district has performed many studies that indicate it has more than enough water both for Nordic’s use and for other, future uses that are not connected to the fish farm.
“We’re comfortable,” Pooler said. “We have a rich history of how much water our system can produce.”
Even so, one person who came on the walk-through was skeptical. Jenny Wylie, who was visiting Belfast from Arizona, said that she had doubts about the project, which has not lacked for controversy.
“I just think it’s a beautiful place, and I’m interested in finding out if it’s going to stay that way,” she said.
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