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

The city of Belfast will reverse its decision to seize a piece of land needed to build a controversial land-based salmon farm that would be one of the largest in the world.

City councilors voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to direct city attorney Kristin Collins to formalize the reversal in a written order, which the council plans to finalize in May.

Nordic Aquafarms, the Norwegian developer behind the $500 million project, said it needs that land – a parcel of mud flats – to install pipes to pump water in and out of Penobscot Bay. The company thought it owned that property until a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling in February 2023 determined it actually belonged to a neighboring couple that opposes the fish farm.

Without a guarantee to the land, it is unclear whether Nordic Aquafarms can move forward. The company said Wednesday it feels “blindsided” by the council’s decision.

“We are considering our options and saddened by the opinions voiced by several council members, this after the Company has made a significant investment in the Belfast project,” U.S. CEO Brenda Chandler said. “The City Council simply seems to want to pass on the opportunity for jobs, economic development and the overall benefits the farm would bring to the city of Belfast.”

Mayor Eric Sanders said the council ultimately landed on a vote that takes the city out of the equation in a complicated, lengthy battle between Nordic and the conservationists and land owners who oppose the project.


“We have bigger fish to fry than this issue,” he said. “I don’t see the city needing to be in the middle because neither side seems to be acquiescing toward a solution that will lead to a resolution that will lead to something happening there.”


Nordic has spent over six years trying to build a salmon farm in Belfast. But conservationists and others against the fish farm believe that the project would have negative environmental impacts, pollute Penobscot Bay, overwhelm local infrastructure and infringe on the rights of the conservation easement owned by the neighbors.

In 2021, the Belfast City Council seized the mud flats by eminent domain to ensure Nordic’s access to the land before any ruling had been made about who owned the property. City officials reasoned that the farm would economically benefit citizens of Belfast. The council had also intended to create a public park on that land.

After the state’s high court ruled last February that Nordic did not own the property, a Waldo County Superior Court justice ordered Belfast in September to make a new decision about seizing the land.

Sanders said that after all this time, trapped in legal battles and public upset, he no longer felt the benefits were worth the cost.


“It was originally ‘it’ll take two to four years to build and you guys will reap the benefits downstream,” he said. “But 6 1/2 years is a lot of time. And it’s probably going to be five to 10 more years of these lawsuits. The city is getting sued now and it’s costing us money.”

Councilors had to weigh the standing of the eminent domain order that paved the way for the city to seize the land, in the wake of the court ruling. They also had to grapple with new questions about where the land falls within boundary lines between Belfast and Northport that will take time to resolve.

Collins presented the council with four options: to take no action and table the issue, to suspend the order, to vacate the order but still allow commercial uses on the neighboring property or the vacate the seizure and any zoning exemptions altogether.

The council ultimately went with option four.


The vote followed a 1 1/2-hour public hearing in a room mostly packed with fish-farm opponents.


“To say that the property in question is for public use is disingenuous, a deception, as the city never expressed interest in obtaining this property until it looked like Nordic’s professed title right and interest would fail – insurance, as it were,” Belfast resident Debbie Smith said. “I don’t know how it is that you believe that this is justified or even legal. I know that you believe you’re doing the best thing for Belfast. But this is not it.”

Conservationists, who have been at odds with the city over its support of Nordic, have applauded the council for its decision.

“Tonight’s vote is a body blow to the fish-raising factory proposed by Nordic Aquafarms,” said Andrew Stevenson, a spokesperson for Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area. “We will continue to track the results of the council’s decision, and we thank them for reversing their 2021 condemnation order. This is a major step in healing the divisions within our community that opened up after Nordic announced its plans in January 2018.”

For Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, who own the mud flats, the council’s vote is a relief.

“We were pretty incredulous about it,” Mabee said of originally learning that the city was trying to take his land. “We have grandchildren who have played on those mud flats since they were babies.”

And the couple hope it brings the saga of fighting for their land to an end.


“We have a wonderful, beautiful little town. We all know each other. And this was really divisive,” Mabee said. “It was hard for friends and acquaintances to be siding with a company, a big corporation that was unkind to us.”

Several organizations, Upstream Watch and the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, have taken Nordic to court to halt the project. The project has been tied up in court ever since. And Nordic has since faced many setbacks. Along with the two 2023 court rulings, state agencies have also suspended its permits and rescinded leases until Nordic can prove it has a right to use that land.

Nordic told the Press Herald in January that it was still committed to building the fish farm, asserting that it was an important project for the town and for the sustainable food-production industry. It would create hundreds of construction, farm and supporting-infrastructure jobs, Chandler said.

“It’s important to acknowledge that there are challenges and those who disagree. We, however, understand this is part of the process when undertaking such a significant project,” Chandler told the City Council. “Nordic Aquafarms represents a future where economic growth, environmental sustainability and community benefits go hand in hand. It’s a future I’m excited to be part of.”

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