A conservation group formed last year by opponents of a proposed land-based salmon farm in Belfast is looking past what they see as a doomed industrial distraction and ahead to restoring the tidal and subtidal land north of Little River estuary.

The Friends of Harriet L. Hartley on February 27 filed an application with the state Bureau of Parks and Lands for a submerged lands lease adjacent to a 12-acre strip of Penobscot Bay mudflats that the group designated last year as a conservation area.

Paul Bernacki, a board member of the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley who specializes in “living shorelines,” a nature-inspired approach to erosion control, said an aerial assessment of the area done 20 years ago showed a coastal marsh with eelgrass that has since disappeared, resulting in erosion of the coastal bluff and desolation of the tidal flats. “It would be a vibrant coastal habitat,” he said. “Instead it’s kind of like a desert, a habitat that’s extremely compromised.”

Bernacki chalked it up to neglect by state regulators, who have increasingly granted permits for shoreline construction under the limited oversight of permit-by-rule. The restoration, he said, would include a staggered breakwater made from oyster and mussel shells placed on the bay floor that would become a home for “little squirmy things” and slow down the wave action that causes coastal erosion. In addition, the group would plant marsh grasses in the flats and eelgrass in the subtidal region and restock the area with protected plantings of mussels, oysters and various types of clams.

“This is not a weird thing,” he said. “It’s just that Maine is so far behind the times and the agencies never did catch up to the Natural Resources Protection Act.”

The restoration project happens to be in the same location as the route that Nordic Aquafarms has proposed for a pipeline to Penobscot Bay.

The Friends of Harriet L. Hartley believe the pipeline would trespass on tidal land owned by Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, who granted the conservation easement to the Friends last year. Mabee and Grace own upland property at the mouth of Little River and have asserted in two ongoing lawsuits that they own not only the adjacent tidal flats, but the flats adjacent to the next three properties to the north.

One of those neighboring property owners, Richard and Janet Eckrote, granted Nordic Aquafarms the easement that would allow the pipeline to cross their waterfront property. That easement was based on an assumption that the Eckrotes own to the low-tide line.

While that’s often true of coastal properties, deeds and surveys produced by the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley suggest that the Eckrotes’ property was conveyed without the intertidal land when it was split from a larger parcel in the 1940s. Harriet L. Hartley was the seller at the time, and her namesake group believes that she intentionally kept the tidal flats to preserve them from development. Hartley additionally placed a conservation easement on the upland property now owned by the Eckrotes.

Nordic Aquafarms has multiple permit applications pending with the state that are contingent upon having rights to the intertidal land. Friends of Harriet L. Hartley and other opponents of the salmon farm have pressed state agencies, including the Board of Environmental Protection, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Bureau of Parks and Lands — which last year granted Nordic a submerged lands lease for its pipeline — to uphold state rules requiring that applicants have right, title and interest to all property related to the permit. For Nordic’s pipeline, this means the entire run.

Marianne Naess, executive vice president of Nordic Aquafarms, Inc., said in a press release that those conditions have been met:

“As is always the case, reviewing agencies have questions and there is back and forth in an iterative process to ensure that all concerns are clearly met. This happens with every project and is a natural process towards permits. The BEP and city of Belfast Planning Board have engaged in months of rigorous and balanced reviews of NAF’s project. All permitting authorities have also found that NAF has sufficient Right, Title and Interest (RTI) to proceed with the permitting process.”

DEP spokesman David Madore said the department found Nordic’s documentation sufficient to go forward with processing its application — a consolidated package of four permit applications that is now under the jurisdiction of the Board of Environmental Protection — but a final decision, which would include consideration of right, title and interest, has not been made.

BEP held public hearings in Belfast last month and is awaiting recommendations from DEP staff before it begins deliberations. Madore anticipated it would be at least three months before the board makes a final decision.

Nordic announced last week that it had filed a tortious interference claim in response to the lawsuit by Mabee/Grace, which asserts intentional economic harm — in effect, that the couple’s claim to the intertidal land was intended to be an obstacle to the salmon farm.

Asked if that was the intent, Bernacki said, “Let’s look at it a different way. Rich people from Norway are putting up an obstacle in my way to restoration. They need to get out of the way.… We’re not protesters. This is our home. This is our only home and we’ve been working on restoring it for a long, long time, and it’s getting better. I’m just totally inspired that it’s turning a corner.”