Protestors outside an information session held by Nordic Aquafarms at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast on December 17 (Photo by Andy O’Brien)
Protestors outside an information session held by Nordic Aquafarms at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast on December 17 (Photo by Andy O’Brien)
Opponents of a proposed land-based salmon farm once again showed up to heckle and argue with representatives from Nordic Aquafarms (NAF) at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast on Monday night. Tempers flared as protesters bickered with the NAF team over the placement of its discharge and outfall pipes and whether there is mercury contamination in the area where the pipes will be buried.

A number of attendees expressed concerns about NAF’s revised pipe route. Under the new plan, the pipes, which will bring water from the bay and discharge treated wastewater, will bend toward the southeast across the mudflats in the Little River estuary rather than take a straight line, as was initially proposed.

According to the engineering firm Ransom Consulting, it made the revision in order to keep the pipe within the littoral zone of the adjacent property, where Nordic holds an easement. The littoral zone extends from the mainland property lines at the mean low-water mark out into the ocean and terminates 1,000 feet out. The area between the mean high-water mark and mean low-water mark is owned privately. NAF recently filed an application for a Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands submerged land lease, which is required for any project that extends beyond the mean low tide line. A number of Northport residents showed up at the meeting out of concern that the revised pipe route would actually cross their properties, but according to Carol DiBello, the state submerged lands coordinator, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

“Based on the applicant’s revised site plan, it does not appear that the proposed pipeline would cross privately owned land in Northport,” she said.

DiBello said the agency is planning to restart the 30-day comment period for the permit application, but it is still waiting for NAF to supply more information about their right, title and interest for the intertidal portion of the project. Notices will be sent to the town of Northport and Northport Village Corp., which were not previously notified. NAF must also provide sufficient right, title and interest to the DEP, and the status of the application may change if the department receives evidence sufficient to demonstrate NAF lacks it. DEP spokesman David Madore said groups opposed to the project filed a submission to the DEP on Tuesday challenging NAF’s right, title and interest.

“We plan to review that submission and may reevaluate the status of the application if warranted,” he said.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting, project opponent Paul Bernacki of Belmont said he believes that the pipeline crosses the properties of a number of Northport residents and requested that the company release the land survey it used to determine its right, title and interest to the pipeline route.

“Some people here are extremely concerned because it appears that somehow the lawyers and engineers and professionals have not quite done it for Mr. Heim and his investors,” said Bernacki, “and we would like to know why it is that you won’t release the Maine licensed professional engineers’ original work on which you’re basing your documents.”

The company’s attorney, Joanna Tourangeau replied that NAF has submitted what was required as part of its DEP and submerged land lease applications and that the company’s easement is sufficient to get the pipeline to the water without crossing other private property.

“In my regular practice, and I have done many similar applications, I have not been in the habit of filing in the public record surveys that have been conducted on properties other than the property that is the subject of the application,” she said. “So we would not typically, as a matter of practice, put in the public record property information about someone else’s property. That’s just not how I do business.”

NAF?CEO?Erik Heim and Lawrence Reichard of Belfast got into heated exchange after Reichard questioned NAF’s credibility. Reichard, who was fired as a columnist for the Republican Journal last month after writing several critical columns about NAF, accused Heim of lying about the length of the discharge pipe as it is now shorter than initially proposed. He also criticized the company for stating that a slate of city council candidates who ran on a platform opposing the project “lost decisively.” Reichard noted that one of the losing candidates received 47 percent of the vote, which he said was a “strong showing.”

“What I want to know is when are you going to start telling the truth about this community and to the community,” said Reichard. “And why should we believe anything you say?”

Heim replied that Reichard falsely accused the company of having diseases at its facility in Norway and manipulated Bent Urup, a Danish aquaculture scientist, into saying negative things about NAF. Urup has since stated that Reichard either misquoted him or took his quotes out of context.

“You’re talking about credibility. You’ve been on a crusade since we came here,” said Heim. “I can’t count the number of articles that you have written. Not any of them are even close to being objective.… Much of the information that you have written about has been demonstrably false.”

Heim said the company shortened the pipe during the engineering phase of the project and that the content of the discharge is more important than how long the pipe is.

Kim Ervin Tucker, who is representing the Belfast environmental group Upstream Watch and the Maine Lobstering Union, questioned the company’s finding that the discharge will not harm lobsters. Elizabeth Ransom of Ransom Consulting said that she used existing research on the chemistry of the bay and the company’s own discharge data to show that the level of dissolved oxygen, which lobsters are sensitive to, would have no adverse effect on the crustaceans. Tucker, who fought a previous effort to dredge Searsport Harbor, also argued that mercury from the former Holtrachem site in Orrington is buried in the sea bottom where the pipeline will run.

“Where this area is has been identified by the federal court’s expert as having buried mercury 8 to 16 inches down,” she said. “If we disturb that mercury, we will contaminate the entire food web of Penobscot Bay according to, not me, but the federal court’s experts.”

According to the 2008 Penobscot River Mercury Study published by a federal court-appointed study panel of scientists, the “highest levels of contamination extended from reaches of the river below the dam into the upper estuary to a point just south of Sears Island, with the peak of contamination occurring at Frankfort Flats.” It noted that lesser contamination extends to the southern end of Islesboro.

Ransom said her team has done sampling in Belfast Bay and that evidence will be provided when the company submits its application to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We’re quite aware of what the conditions are and believe that this pipeline can be constructed without a mercury impact,” Ransom said.

In the midst of the exchange, members of the crowd erupted in anger when NAF Chief Technology Officer David Noyes gave the microphone to Belfast lobsterman Mike Dassett, a project supporter who helped conduct the mercury tests in the bay for the study, to counter Tucker’s claims.

“I am someone that knows about lobstering,” said Tucker. “I’ve been working with this industry a long time.”

To which Dassett replied, “No you haven’t. Don’t lie. You are lying.” Hecklers in the audience accused Dassett of being paid off by NAF and shouted at him to get at the end of the line. “I’m not being paid by anyone,” Dassett shot back.

After Dassett was shouted down, George Seaver, who owns the company Ocean Organics in Waldoboro said he is hoping to be able to get some of the biproducts from the NAF facility to make fertilizer. He urged NAF to explain the concentration of chemicals in its discharge compared to other permit holders, such as the Rockland Wastewater Treatment Plant, which he claimed is responsible for the “crap” on the bottom of his boat.

“Because I want your fish shit, I want you to be able to put this into perspective,” said Seaver. “I’m on your side.”

Ransom replied, “The perspective we’re trying to offer is that while 7 million gallons sounds like a lot of water, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 720 trillion gallons in the bay. And yes you try to think about the cumulative effects of the municipalities and the other dischargers to the bay, but we all know that this bay has capacity for what Nordic is proposing and that’s why we’re anticipating that we’ll get a discharge permit.”

Eventually, Dassett was able to speak after everyone else had spoken and said that there is no contamination of any heavy metals or mercury on the Belfast side of the bay.

“I did the research,” he said. “People are going to stand up here and they say know this and know that. No, they don’t. They’re filling you with lies. I have all the reports.

I have all the access. I did the damn testing.”

Regardless, it didn’t appear that many minds were changed that night. Belfast City Councilor Mike Hurley, for one, said he is no longer attending NAF meetings for one reason. “It’s chumming for crazy people,” he said.