AUGUSTA — The Maine Board of Environmental Protection will consider a request to assume licensing jurisdiction over the application of Nordic Aquafarms to site a salmon-raising enterprise in Belfast. Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection Agency Commissioner Gerald Reid agrees the project has statewide significance and has asked the BEP to take charge of the application processing.
The BEP convenes Thursday, June 20, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Augusta Civic Center for a regularly scheduled meeting.
Commissioner Reid’s request that the BEP assume jurisdiction is the second of such since January, when the Belfast-based nonprofit Upstream Watch asked the BEP to also assume licensing jurisdiction. Nordic Aquafarms, the Norwegian-based company, likewise asked in March that the BEP assume jurisdiction.
The seven-member BEP consists of citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Maine Legislature. The BEP meets monthly and provides an independent voice on administration and enforcement of Mine’s environmental policies and laws. The board handles appeals of DEP licensing and enforcement actions, and while part of the Maine DEP, the board is a separate body.
There are specific criteria involved when the DEP, which is the normal licensing agency for all projects that require environmental scrutiny, hands over the application processing to the BEP.
In the Nordic Aquafarms case, DEP Commissioner Reid confirmed in a June 14 letter to BEP Chairman Marc Draper that the proposal to build a recirculating aquaculture system in Belfast and Northport, for the rearing and processing of Atlantic salmon, constituted statewide significance.
According to state law, applications can be referred to the BEP when a commercial hazardous waste facility is proposed, or when it meets the definition of having state significance, and meets, “at least 3 of the following 4 criteria:
- The project will have an environmental or economic impact in more than one municipality, territory or county;
- The project involves an activity not previously permitted or licensed in the State;
- The project is likely to come under significant public scrutiny; and
- The project is located in more than one municipality, territory or county.
According to Reid, the justification for statewide significance follows:
“The proposed project would be located principally in Belfast; however, its waste discharge pipe would extend into neighboring Northport.... Among the issues raised by interested persons and the general public are the potential impacts of the facility’s wastewater discharge and pipe infrastructure on commercial fisheries and recreational activities in Belfast Bay and the wider environment of Penobscot Bay. Given its nature and scale, the proposed project may have an economic and/or environmental impact in more than one municipality.”
Reid added that the DEP received filings for Upstream Watch, the Maine Lobsterman’s Association and other interested persons, and more than 130 people have asked to be placed on the interested persons’ list.
“It is apparent that the proposed project is subject to significant public scrutiny,” Reid concluded, and asked the BEP to take over processing the site law, Natural Resources Protection Act, waste discharge and air license applications for the Nordic Aquafarms’ proposal.
He suggested the BEP hold a hearing on the consolidated applications.
Phase 1 of the proposed Belfast venture calls for the construction of a facility that houses the indoor production in large tanks and water treatment systems. They are “to recycle and treat water on site to reduce overall water consumption, recycling of waste resources, the prevention of sea lice and parasites, the elimination of fish escape into the sea and co-mingling with wild species, the application of renewable energy concepts, and a shorter distance to market for a high quality, fresh product, reducing the carbon footprint of air and land transport.”
The discharge pipe from the treated water from the facility is to extend one mile into Penobscot Bay.
In a letter to interested parties informing them of the June 20 meeting, the BEP noted that no public comment would be allowed.
“When the Board accepts licensing jurisdiction, it will vote on whether to have a public hearing (but would not set a date for that) and would set a deadline for the filing of petitions to intervene,” according to the BEP’s executive analyst Cynthia S. Bertocci. “Under the Department’s Chapter 3 Rules Governing the Conduct of Licensing Hearings, section 11(A)(1), the deadline for the filing of a petition for leave to intervene is within 10 days of the Department’s publication of notice of opportunity to intervene, or such other time as may be specified in the notice. The parties may submit written comment by Wednesday, June 19, 2019 at 5 pm on an appropriate deadline for the filing of petitions to intervene in the licensing proceeding.”
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