‘Plaintiffs have not met their burden on this issue’

Judge rules in favor of Belfast over process complaint concerning proposed salmon farm

Sat, 07/13/2019 - 12:00pm

BELFAST — Judge Robert Murray decided in favor of the City of Belfast July 10 in a case that was filed almost one year ago by two Belfast residents who had appealed to Waldo County Superior Court, alleging improper municipal process and failure of Belfast to follow citizen participation procedures.

The complaint filed in August 2018 by Ellie Daniels and Donna Broderick followed a contentious series of public hearings held as as Nordic Aquafarms, Inc., intitiated its pursuit to site an indoor salmon farm in Belfast.

Besides raising concerns about the proposed fish farm itself, Daniels and Broderick outlined multiple points in their suit  that disputed the legality by which the city introduced and processed amendment changes to allow for Nordic Aquaculture to proceed with the city’s permitting process. 

Ellie Daniels and Donna Broderick live on property abutting the 40-acre parcel in question, which is currently wooded and is adjacent to the Little River that flows into Penobscot Bay. 

They had said that the city, “abused its powers by approving April 17 zoning and comprehensive plan amendments without following state statute and local zoning ordinance process for planning board and community involvement.” 

But on July 10, 2019, Judge Murray wrote in a 23-page decision that his ruled in favor of the City of Belfast and denied the motion for summary judgment by Daniels and Broderick. 

(See attached PDF for the July 10, 2019 decision.)

Judge Murray wrote that Belfast had properly adopted amendments of pertinent zoning ordinances in October 2018, and that Daniels and Broderick did not meet their burden to show that the October 2018 amendments to several zoning ordinances were inconsistent with the April 17, 2018 Future Land Use Plan.

Furthermore, he wrote in his order, that the Belfast City Council “had a rational basis that the Oct. 16, 2018 amendments to the zoning ordinances ‘was in basic harmony with the April 17, 2018 amendments to the comprehensive plan.’”

As to the assertion that the city failed to follow state statute in amending the Comprehensive Plan by not engaging a planning committee, Murray said that while the Maine Legislature had proscribed a process for adopting a growth management program that included establishing a committee, the amendment of a municipality’s comprehensive plan does not, per state statue, specify the need for a planning committee.

In a July 12 press release, the city responded with a statement: “Responding to the Court’s decision, Wayne Marshall, Director of Code and Planning for the City of Belfast, said: ‘The City of Belfast is pleased with the outcome of this case and extremely appreciative for the swift and efficient manner in which it was reviewed and acted upon by Justice Murray.  With this matter now resolved, all parties can now more confidently move forward with local, state, and federal permit application requirements.’”