A bill that would have exempted land-based aquaculture from the state’s building and energy code has been voted down in committee at the request of the sponsor. To what extent companies planning such facilities will have to comply with the code remains unclear.

LD 1473, an emergency governor’s bill sponsored by Sen. Kimberley Rosen, R-Hancock County, was written by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development at the request of Whole Oceans, the company that is developing a land-based salmon farm on the former paper mill site in Bucksport. According to DECD, Whole Oceans asked for the exemption because the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (MUBEC) would have required it to install sprinkler and air handling systems it felt were not necessary for land-based aquaculture buildings. DECD spokeswoman Kate Foye previously told The Free Press that the bill was written as a broad exemption for the industry in anticipation of other companies facing similar obstacles. Foye did not respond to an email seeking comment for this article.

Michael Thompson, senior project coordinator for Whole Oceans, testified to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in May that the sprinkler and air handling systems required under MUBEC would cost $33 million, and a number of smaller items would add to the total.

In a statement to The Free Press after the bill was voted down, Thompson said, “Whole Oceans will continue to work with local and state officials on determining the codes that are applicable to land-based aquaculture. We’re confident that through those processes we can address many of the costly items that aren’t really applicable to buildings that house aquaculture tanks.”

Nearly all public testimony submitted to the committee was against the bill. The opponents saw it as a favor to a new industry in Maine that would allow it to sidestep necessary safety and energy efficiency standards. Supporters of the bill, including DECD, argued land-based aquaculture buildings should be treated like agricultural buildings used for livestock and harvested crops, both of which are currently exempt from MUBEC, and that other codes would ensure safety at the facilities.

“The sponsor heard very clearly that this was a large move to exempt this new industry from MUBEC and has asked that we not go forward with that,” Committee Chair Rep. Charlotte Warren said. “They are going to work to find another path. They don’t want to send the message that was obviously emanating from the discussion. That’s why the sponsor has asked us to please vote ‘ought not to pass’ on the bill.”

Much of the opposition to LD 1473 came from the vicinity of Belfast, where Nordic Aquafarms is getting final permits for a large land-based Atlantic salmon farm. However, NAF has said it had nothing to do with LD 1473 and would not have benefitted from it.

Other proposed land-based fish farms include Kingfish Zeeland in Jonesport and Aquabanq in Millinocket.