Upstream Watch, a local conservation group that opposes the salmon farm planned by Nordic Aquafarms in Belfast, Maine, did have the right to challenge the project. So ruled the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ordered the permit back to the city for review. This time, the conservationists will have the right to appeal its decision as an interested party. This new court setback for Nordic Aquafarms is in addition to the one suffered by the company in February when it lost a court case over land rights to an intertidal marsh where it planned to install the aquaculture farm's inlet and outlet pipes.
As reflected in yesterday's ruling, on December 22, 2020, the Planning Board voted to approve Nordic's permit applications, and on January 20, 2021, Upstream Watch – which had been recognized as an interested party – appealed that decision to the Belfast Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). After several back and forths in which, among other issues, the deadlines for submission of some of the documentation submitted by the conservationists were disputed, the ZBA ultimately determined that the organization had not demonstrated a particularized injury sufficient to establish standing and dismissed its appeal.
However, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court now rules in favor of the conservation organization. "We conclude that the ZBA erred as a matter of law when it determined that Upstream did not have standing to appeal. We vacate the judgment and remand the case to the Superior Court with instructions to remand the case to the ZBA," reads the ruling known yesterday.
As a result, the proceeding to adjudicate the permit to open the salmon farm in Belfast will have to return to the city. This new court setback is a further delay for Nordic Aquafarms, which, in anticipation, had already requested a pause in its permitting schedule, something the Maine, U.S. Department of Environmental Protection granted last June.
"This pause will allow the courts to fully adjudicate the issues raised by project opponents without allowing the delay caused by the endless litigation to run the clock on the permits," Brenda Chandler, Nordic Aquafarms CEO in the U.S., said at the time. "Nordic remains committed to providing a locally grown, sustainably produced source of healthy protein in this community," she added.
As a reminder, the Belfast City Planning Board granted Nordic all of the permits – up to five – the company applied for to open its salmon farm. These include a site plan permit, a zoning use permit, a shoreland zoning permit, a significant groundwater wells permit, and a significant water intake and significant water discharge/outfall pipes permit.
Now, following yesterday's ruling, the aquaculture company has once again thanked the city for its support. "The City's support has been and remains strong, for which we are grateful," Jacqueline Cassida, Public Relations Manager at Nordic Aquafarms told WeAreAquaculture. As in the past, they remain calm as they continue to work to move the project forward. "We're reviewing the ruling, and steadfast in the mission to continue waiting out the legal challenges," Cassida added.
For her part, speaking to the local media, Upstream Watch president Amy Grant said the organization is looking forward to finally having the opportunity to file its appeal with the ZBA. "We're hopeful that the Zoning Board of Appeals will get what we're trying to say … and we're hopeful they'll do the right thing," she said to the Portland Press Herald.
In the same article, signed by journalist Kay Neufeld, the city's attorney, Kristin M. Collins, said that the city respects and, of course, will comply with the decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and will move forward "without delay" to have this appeal returned to the appeals board for a decision.
While all this is going on in Maine, Nordic Aquafarms is moving ahead with its other project on U.S. soil, this one on the West Coast in California, where a year ago the company took a major step forward after the Humboldt County Planning Commission voted unanimously to certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The company plans to dedicate the California land-based operation to yellowtail kingfish production, as they do in their operations in Europe.
Nordic Aquafarms Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nordic Aquafarms Group in Norway, one of the leaders in the international land-based seafood segment. In the United States, the company intends to develop two of the country's largest land-based seafood projects, one on each coast: in Belfast, Maine, and another in the Humboldt County town of Samoa, California. With offices in both locations, their U.S. headquarters are in Portland, Maine.