Nordic Aquafarms on May 16 responded to claims by opponents that the company lacks the necessary land rights for a $500 million land-based salmon farm it wants to build in Belfast and Penobscot Bay, saying the rights are clear enough to apply for state permits.

Nordic has applications pending with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Bureau of Parks and Lands for a pipeline that would run from the salmon farm to the bay. Both require that the company prove title, right and interest to all property that the pipeline would cross along the way.

Opponents, who are attempting to block the salmon farm because they believe it poses a threat to the bay, seized on several hitches in the deed of a shorefront property that the pipeline would cross. The owners, Janet and Richard Eckrote, granted Nordic an easement, which the company included in its applications to DEP and BPL last fall.

The citizen group Upstream Watch has since called for the applications to be rejected, claiming that the tidal mudflats in front of the Eckrotes’ property have belonged to a neighbor since 1946. Recently, they pointed to a Facebook post by Nordic Aquafarms as evidence that the company knew about the land ownership and withheld that information from state regulators and the public.

In a point-by-point rebuttal submitted to the Bureau of Parks and Lands, Nordic’s attorney, David Kallin of Drummond Woodsum, argued that the land records Upstream Watch showed to state regulators as proof that Nordic lacks right, title and interest to the key property are ambiguous enough that administrators should err on the side of allowing the application to go through.

The language in the 2012 deed, when the Eckrotes bought the land, paints a different picture than the 1946 deed, Kallin said, and the difference between them “colors” the title, or makes it less definitive. In a letter submitted to BPL by Upstream Watch, Rockport surveyor Donald Richards, an authority on intertidal land ownership, acknowledged this coloring of the Eckrotes’ title but gave his opinion that the intertidal land was severed from the upland property in 1946.

Referring to the sale in 1946, Kallin said, “the opposition’s premise that that deed unambigiously severs the flats from the upland is wrong. The deed is not unambiguous.”

Kallin noted that the bureau has limited authority under the Submerged and Intertidal Lands Act. As such, he said, the ambiguity in the deed shouldn’t prevent the bureau from processing Nordic’s application.

Nordic’s May 16 response was dense with references to case law, dating as far back as 1824, and including a number of cases set in the midcoast. To support the idea of administrative standing, Kallin cited a 1987 Maine Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Rockland Planning Commission’s approval of plans for the LaVerdiere’s drug store on Maverick Street (no longer there) over objections from Rockland Plaza Realty Corp., which claimed to own some of the land.

Kallin cited another case from four years earlier, when the Law Court rejected a challenge by two Lincolnville landowners trying to stop N.H. developer Bob Bahre from building a 44-unit condominium development on grounds that he lacked right, title or interest in the land he proposed to develop and therefore lacked “administrative standing.”

“The administrative standard for sufficient right, title and interest differs dramatically from an actual determination of property rights,” Kallin wrote.

Though aspects of the deed might be ambiguous, Kallin argued that they should be interpreted in favor of the Eckrotes, and by association Nordic Aquafarms.

The land description in the neighboring deed, he said, suggests that it stops short of the Eckrotes’ land. And where conveyance of the intertidal zone is unclear, he said, Maine courts have deferred to the Colonial Method, a system of dividing intertidal land that dates to 1641 and starts with drawing a line between the two markers on the shore side of a property, then extending parallel lines to the low-water mark.

In the case of the Eckrotes’ property, these shore-side markers were described in the 1946 deed as a wooden stake and an iron bolt, each lying at the mouths of separate brooks running along the sidelines of the property.

“It is my understanding that neither the iron bolt nor the wooden stake referenced in the 1946 deed have been located on the face of the earth,” Kallin wrote. The brooks, however, remain, he said; and since they run into the bay, the mouths of the brooks should be understood to extend to the low-tide line.

James Dorsky, in a letter included with Nordic’s response, said the Eckrotes additionally might have an adverse possession, or “squatter’s rights,” claim to the intertidal zone based on indications that the property has been in the family since 1946.

Nordic also responded to the claim that the company doesn’t have the right to cross Route 1, including a Feb. 13 letter from Belfast City Planner Wayne Marshall granting a conditional permit for Nordic to open the highway to install the pipeline.

In a cover letter accompanying the new documentation, Nordic restated its commitment to seeing the salmon farm through and to continuing an “open and transparent” process:

“Our team works extremely hard and with diligence to get things right.... We are staying the course and we remain committed to Belfast. We renew our invitation to those with questions or concerns about the project to call or come by our offices any time. Our door is always open to open communication and honest disagreement.”

The company has said its wastewater treatment system exceeds industry standards for recirculating (land-based) aquaculture facilities, which are already less polluting than the ocean pens used in salmon farming today. Estimates submitted to DEP last fall show that the Nordic facility would discharge a fraction of the pollution per pound of fish of another land-based salmon farm in the works in Bucksport.

Carol DiBello, submerged lands coordinator for the Bureau of Parks and Lands, on May 20 gave Upsteam Watch attorney Kim Ervin Tucker a week (until May 27) to submit supplemental evidence — including title searches, title opinions, or surveys — to support her position on the ownership of the intertidal land adjacent to the Eckrote property. DiBello added that any remarks or legal arguments should be reserved for the 30-day comment period after the bureau issues its preliminary findings and decision.