A 2018 artist’s rendering of the Nordic Aquafarms facility proposed for construction beside Little River in Belfast. Nordic Aquafarms

A long-running dispute over a proposed fish farm in Belfast is moving back before the state agency that previously has issued permits for the project.

A local group named Upstream Watch and some property owners are opposed to Nordic Aquafarms’ plans for a $500 million salmon farm, which is supported by most city officials. The opponents say the plant would draw too much water and also pose a threat to water quality in Belfast Bay and Little River.

To make their plans work, Nordic needs to run pipes from its planned site west of Route 1 to the bay. The company said it needs to be able to pump fresh bay water into its facility while flushing out used water.

Nordic had planned to run those pipes through intertidal land that the city said was owned by Janet and Richard Eckrote. The city bought the land from the Eckrotes in 2021, but early last month, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the land was instead owned by a neighboring couple, Jeffrey R. Mabee and Judith Grace, who oppose the fish farm. The court also said the land carries a valid conservation easement that only allows residential use of the property, but it didn’t rule on whether the pipe plan would run afoul of that because that issue wasn’t before the court.

There are a handful of lawsuits over the fish farm still pending in court, including one that challenges the city’s effort to seize Mabee’s and Grace’s property by eminent domain. Belfast officials said they would use the property to extend the city’s trail system while also allowing Nordic to run its pipes underground through the property to the bay.

Now both sides are asking the state Department of Environmental Protection to review the permits it previously issued to Nordic approving its plans for the fish farm. Upstream Watch and Mabee and Grace want the DEP to either suspend or revoke the permits, while Nordic said Friday that it wants a suspension while the property ownership and other legal issues are sorted out.


Upstream Watch and Kim Ervin Tucker, the lawyer for Mabee and Grace, said the high court’s ruling and other information they’ve uncovered means circumstances have changed since the DEP issued permits for the fish farm. The appeal to the agency cites those changed circumstances as the reason the permits should be revoked or suspended, Tucker said.

“We are dealing with a company that is willing to take other people’s land and have the money to litigate in multiple forums simultaneously,” Tucker said. For instance, Tucker said she has uncovered documents that indicate that the land for the fish farm site was given by the state Department of Transportation to Belfast’s water district 50 years ago with the requirement that it not be developed and instead protected as a watershed. The fish farm would violate that provision and require the property to be turned back to the state, she said.

Tucker said another pending case before Maine’s high court challenges the DEP’s decision to issue permits to Nordic and the case objecting to the city’s taking of property by eminent domain is moving forward in Superior Court. That case was on hold until the top court ruled, but a judge is expected to set a timetable for the suit at the end of the month.

On Friday, Nordic filed its surprise appeal to the DEP, saying the company now agrees that the permits should be put on temporary hold.

Brenda Chandler, the chief executive officer of Nordic Aquafarms, said Saturday that it makes sense to suspend the permits because of the lawsuits and appeals to the DEP. She said the permits contain requirements and deadlines for the company that don’t make sense when the court cases could take years to straighten out.

For instance, she said, the company is required to take samples of bay water to establish background levels of water quality. Thats’s work that doesn’t need to be done now, she said, and Nordic shouldn’t have to pay for it because it will likely be years until the company learns whether it will be able to move forward with plans.

The amount of money involved isn’t large, she said, “but we don’t want to take that risk and invest anything more” when the future of the fish farm is uncertain.

The DEP is expected to make a decision on the requests later this month.

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