A BDN file photo of part of the waterfront property off Route 1 near the Little River that will be given to the city of Belfast. Credit: BDN file photo

BELFAST, Maine — The company that wants to build a $500 million land-based salmon farm in Waldo County will give a shorefront property to the city of Belfast in exchange for a permanent easement that will allow the company to bring its intake and outflow pipes to Penobscot Bay.

The property in question previously was owned by Richard and Janet Eckrote until recently, when Nordic purchased it. It has also been at the heart of a protracted legal battle over who owns the intertidal zone adjacent to it. The 2.75 acre parcel has 325 feet of shore frontage and will be used for the “public benefit of all the people of Belfast,” according to a statement released Friday by the Belfast City Council.

“The council and I are thrilled to receive an area that will make a tremendous oceanfront park for the citizens of Belfast,” Mayor Eric Sanders said. “I can personally think of no better gift to future generations.”

After meeting in executive session for more than hour on Thursday night, the council quickly and with no discussion unanimously adopted three motions pertaining to a land transaction between Nordic Aquafarms and the city of Belfast.

The civil lawsuit argued last month before Waldo County Superior Court Justice Robert Murray over ownership of the disputed intertidal zone has yet to be finally resolved.

In the trial, plaintiffs Jeffrey Mabee, Judith Grace and Friends of the Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area tried to prove that landowners Richard and Janet Eckrote did not have the right to grant Nordic Aquafarms an easement to cross their intertidal zone because they were not its true owners.

Maine is one of just a few states where private property owners own land to the mean low tide line. In other coastal states, this intertidal land is owned by the state in trust for the public.

According to an 18-page purchase and sale agreement between Nordic Aquafarms and the City of Belfast, dated July 9, the city will convey to Nordic within 45 days an easement that is “free from the alleged title defects.” In exchange, the city will own the property.

Those alleged title defects include any claim to right, title and interest that Mabee, Grace, the Friends of the Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area and heirs of Harriet L. Hartley may have in the Eckrote’s intertidal zone.

It was not immediately clear how the city would be able to grant the easement free of other claims to the property. Councilors said Friday that the city would make offers to purchase the alleged claims in the property, including in the intertidal zone.  

Bill Kelly, the city’s attorney for all matters regarding Nordic Aquafarms, asked appraiser Ken Charest of Brunswick to estimate the value of the Eckrotes’ property. He appraised the upland property at $420,000 and the disputed intertidal area at $40,000, according to documents shared by Kelly. 

“The appraiser was also asked to provide the specific values of interests for each person or entity which claims, or could claim, an interest in the intertidal area,” Charest wrote.

He found that the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley, which holds a conservation easement granted in 2019 by Mabee and Grace, has a $36,000 interest in the intertidal area. Mabee and Grace’s share was $4,000.

“It should also be noted that the construction of the Intake/Discharge pipes over the Eckrote property will be underground with a complete remediation that will leave the property in the same physical and environmental condition as it was before construction,” Charest wrote.

Andy Stevenson of the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation area spent Friday trying to understand what the city’s actions at the Thursday night council meeting would mean for his group and the others. He said he was disappointed but not too surprised that the council has taken these steps.

“Authorizing the city attorney to purchase the Eckrote’s upland lot and to offer to buy any potential rights of the neighboring landowners tells me the council is preparing a campaign to acquire the intertidal mudflats by eminent domain,” he said. “The city council has put its hand into a hornet’s nest.”