I am a Belfast City Council member and I voted to change the Belfast Water District land’s zoning to include aquaculture and allow Nordic Aquafarms (NA) to submit an application. That process is still under way. Without the zoning change there can be no application so we’d never get a chance to know what size would the farm be, how much water would they need and where would they get the water, or how much treated water would be sent out to the bay. Without the zoning change there won’t be an application.

Many people, including longtime friends, have, with determined passion, urged my fellow councilors and me to just say no — delay it, reset it, call it what you will — just say no-thanks to the fish tanks. I’ve read the letters, all of them, I’ve listened closely to many voices at hearings and in person with the list of reasons to reject the proposal, I’ve become a student of aquaculture around the world, and I am still a supporter of changing the zoning to allow an application to go forward so we can get some real information. I have listened carefully, not with deaf ears, and I disagree with those opposed.

Why would I and the entire Belfast City Council feel this way? But better yet, Why me? Why would a guy who resisted Vietnam, went to Woodstock in 1969, went “back to the land” in the early ’70, was proud to be called a hippie, made his bones at 29 in Belfast starting a legendary bar and restaurant when the town was at its absolute lowest, helping to start the Waldo Independent, partner in the Artfellows Gallery, kick start the Church Street Festival, watched as we tore down the grain mill and built the breakwater, sailed both ways across the Atlantic ocean, a three-term mayor who struggled to save thousands of jobs at MBNA and Bank of America, a guy who has planted over 1,000 Belfast street trees and every year we put up the winter protectors on the downtown trees, cajoled Waterfall Arts to come in from the country and take on Anderson School, a mayor who signed the Mayor’s Climate Change petition without council support, a five-term city council member, the guy who started the Belfast Street Party and championed Our Town Belfast? Why that guy? Why would #75 member of the Belfast Food Co-op, a co-conspirator bringing the Belfast Bearfest to town, a man who has buried too many of his friends and neighbors and too often their children as well, who has grown older with people I knew before they were born — why would I support the fish farm? As mayor and a city councilor I’ve championed the arts, created the position Belfast Poet Laureate, supported the Belfast Creative Coalition, banned plastic bags, proudly help to declare Indigenous Peoples Day, started the Drum and Rabble Marching Society to usher in New Year’s Eve, worked 20 years to bring the Rail Trail from a dream to reality, built and tended the New Year’s bonfire, proudly marched with my gay, lesbian, queer, trans, bi, and questioning neighbors in Belfast Has Pride parade, and, by the way, I’m not done yet. Last year I was honored to be named citizen of the year by the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce. I hope the reason I was honored is because of my deep love for Belfast and my decades-long commitment to help in making it a better place. Why would this guy open the door to the fish farm?

Before I answer that, let me first say that the City Council and the City of Belfast staff would have been the first to oppose the fish farm had we thought there was any validity to the panicked doomsday scenarios bouncing around our city. I believe we have the water here to support the operation. I believe the effluent will be cleaned better than the 400,000 daily gallons of sewage Belfast releases into the bay. But until we have an application we can’t truly judge and understand the size and effects of any proposal or know the true answers. If I or my fellow councilors believed this aquaculture proposal would harm the people of Belfast, the aquifer or the bay, we’d be opposed. We do not believe this to be the case.

So why me? Where am I coming from? I am a member in a long line of working-class people. One of five boys in a divorced home where my mom worked four jobs at once to keep us together. From an early age I started working and I’m not done yet. When I came to Belfast the chicken plants started to fall, taking an entire industry and a traditional way of life with them. In many ways it was a hard life here in Belfast and the area, and then it got worse when the shoe factories and sardine plant closed, and the downtown and the whole town struggled. But we got through those hard times and Belfast has come roaring back.

If you do not work with the thousands of people who every day go to Penobscot McCrumm or Ducktrap, Mathews Brothers, Bank of America, On Process, the RSUs, Front Street Shipyard, Waldo County General Hospital, or many other large and small places, you might not know it but Belfast is an honest-to-God real place — not a tourist town — where thousands of people go to work every day. We have developed a vibrant and varied economy but we are not done yet.

Many of our neighbors, young and old, still struggle every day to make a living. Housing is expensive, in part because this is such a great place to live, so many new people vie to own a home here. Taxes are high. Years of the State of Maine killing municipal support and crippling the funding for education, and other contributing factors, have made Belfast the 14th highest taxed town in Maine. This deeply hurts the less affluent and the long-time and young residents, making it harder for them to keep or buy their homes. There are only two ways to drive taxes down and make life here more affordable: 1. Cut spending, or 2. Increase valuation and revenue.

If you are predisposed to believe that the city of Belfast does not do all it can to keep spending low already, then you may be part of the people who believe taxes can never go down. You would be wrong. Taxes can go down, and we do work to keep taxes from increasing, but we cannot make snow go away with a magic wand, or keep health insurance rates and employee wages at 1975 levels as we go over the budget every year by the penny and it is always a lean budget. The fastest way to lower taxes or pay for things Belfast residents want without raising taxes is to increase valuation.

This is why I support the fish farm. If built out as proposed, Nordic Aquafarms will pay more taxes than the top 100 taxpayers in Belfast combined. That’s everything big in Belfast you can name — from Bank of America, Athena-health, Front Street Shipyard, Renys, Hannaford, etc., etc., and on down the list till you get to #100 — a private home valued at $657,800. Belfast has a total of $760 million in total valuation. The fish farm could add over $400 million to that figure. It will lower your taxes and it will make it possible to improve Belfast in many ways.

By the way: if the fish farm proposal was not destined to pay enormous taxes to help lower your tax bill, why would we bother going through all this trouble? Our primary motivation is to lower your tax burden.

The NA site will also be a state-of-the-art facility. It will attract and employ a significant number of people and, even if the business is sold to new owners, it will never be moved to an out-of-state call center. Once built, the fish will be here a long time. It will add to the diversity of options for local people to find work they want to do.

This is why I support the fish farm application and want to know more through the application process. I adhere to the motto “above all, do no harm,” and I believe this to be true until proven differently. I would never harm Belfast but I would walk through hell to make it a better place. We’re not done yet.

Mike Hurley, Belfast