Belfast aquaculture project puts intertidal ownership into question

Mon, 12/07/2020 - 6:15pm

    The proposed $500 million Nordic Aquafarms aquaculture project scheduled for the Midcoast continues to face controversy over land rights associated with laying saltwater intake and wastewater discharge pipes from the proposed facility — through a privately owned portion of the Belfast intertidal zone — and out into Penobscot Bay. 

    The debate over who owns the tidal rights to construct a 30-foot wide swath to lay pipes continues; legal challenges and permit approvals remain pending. Maine is one of two states that grants private property owners ownership of the intertidal zone. 

    “It comes down to, well, who owns that intertidal zone?” said Andy Stevenson, secretary for the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, a nonprofit advocacy group challenging the pipeline route in court. “If Nordic does not have the legal right to cross that intertidal zone, it would either have to lay its pipeline somewhere else, or it would have to abandon the project.” 

    A cluster of neighbors living on beachfront property disagree on who owns the prime intertidal zone, a boundary dispute that will be decided by a Waldo County superior court judge. While the land remains the preferred route for Nordic Aquafarms, the company said it always considers alternatives. 

    “We have a preferred route but there are other options as well,” said Marianne Naess, a spokesperson for Nordic Aquafarms. “We’re in it for the long run and we’ve been fighting hard in Belfast for over the last two years.”

    The Belfast planning board will continue deliberations on the five municipal permits needed for construction over the next two weeks.

    Nordic Aquafarms received final state permits from the Department of Environmental Protection on Nov. 19 and the public has 30 days to appeal. A federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers is also required. 

    “The issuing of the permits is one prerequisite for Nordic being able to construct its plants, but securing permission to cross the intertidal zone is the other prerequisite,” said Stevenson. “If they don’t have permission to cross the intertidal zone, they can’t put their plant there.” 


    Dec. 8, 4:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Belfast planning board wrapped up deliberations on five permits for the Nordic Aquafarms project and would give recommendations to the city council for its final votes. The story has been updated to reflect that the planning board’s deliberations are not yet over. The planning board, not the city council, will have final say on the permits.