BELFAST —A large group gathered at the Hutchinson Center Tuesday morning to hear Governor Paul LePage announce a major economic development that is targeting Belfast. A Norwegian aquafarm company has chosen the outskirts of the city as the site of their newest, and only U.S., facility, according to the company’s founder and CEO, Erik Heim.
Nordic Aquafarms, a land-based seafood production company in Norway, decided to build its next facility in Belfast, bringing an initial investment of $150 million to the area.
The facility, which will produce salmon from “end to end” (from hatcheries to slaughter) when completed, is to be built on 40 acres on Route 1 on the outskirts of town. It is expected to produce 33,000 tons of salmon annually and will be one of the world’s largest land-based salmon farms.
The Norwegian company has reportedly been working “behind the scenes” with a number of Maine citizens and companies in an effort to iron out all the details.
Those who worked with Nordic Aquafarms include Maine and Company, a nonprofit that assists companies looking to move to, or expand to Maine, Ransom Consulting Inc., consulting scientists and engineers, the City of Belfast, and the Belfast Water District, which currently owns part of the property where the new facility will be built.
The 40 acres outlined for the facility consists of 26 acres currently owned by the City of Belfast Water District, and 14 acres of abutting privately owned land. Nordic Aquafarms will also buy a volume of water from the district, which will provide additional annual revenue.
The sale of the land is not expected to raise the water rates for customers in Belfast and Northport, the city said.
The land selected has few neighbors and is also shielded by land-buffer zones, which means that beyond increased construction activity, neighbors of the property should not be affected, presenters said at the gathering. Additionally, the trails and lakeside area on the site will remain preserved for recreation, with a forest buffer between those lands and the facility, according to Heim.
Heim said the choice to build in Belfast came after careful considerations, with other European countries and the west coast of the U.S. all considered, before Heim eventually settled on Maine, then specifically Belfast.
The final decision to build in Belfast came down to its, “pristine environment, cold water conditions, long history as a leader in the seafood industry and proximity to major consumer markets in the Northeast U.S.,” Heim said.
“We see an attractive opportunity to bring our know-how, solutions and capital strength to the United States,” he said. “We are committed to producing super fresh, high-quality seafood with a low environmental footprint for U.S. consumers. That requires local production, and we believe that we have found an ideal site here in Maine. We look forward to becoming a responsible and contributing member of the Maine Seafood industry.”
LePage also expressed his excitement about the development deal.
“I welcome Nordic Aquafarms to Belfast and thank them for their investment and the jobs they will be creating,” he said. “Nordic Aquafarms is a good fit for our state and the Midcoast.”
The facility is to be built in several phases, with the first phase expected to last two years, by which time Heim expects to employ 60 people. The overall investment is expected to be between $450-500 million by the time the project is completed, he said.
Heim said he and the company will now proceed with its final due diligence, including planning and permitting.
Construction on the site is expected to begin in 2019, though operations are expected to begin in 2020. The first phase of the project will have the capacity to produce 13,000 tons of fish, and is set to be the largest land-based facility project ever built in one construction phase, according to Nordic Aquafarms.
The completed facility, which is currently being designed in Norway, will include large indoor tanks where the fish will be raised, and will have an emphasis on fish welfare, product quality and a green footprint in its operations, the company said. Once completed it will house the largest aquaculture tanks in the world.
The expected annual capacity of the fully-built facility will equal roughly 8 percent of total U.S. salmon consumption.
Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge said city council, city staff, and the water district have all worked closely with Nordic Aquafarms in an effort to make the project a reality.
“Everyone stepped up when this opportunity presented itself and we all worked hard to get an agreement complete on a rather accelerated timetable,” he said. “Nordic Aquafarms will be a welcome addition to the Belfast economy and will augment the great food production sector that we already have” Kittredge said.
Belfast Mayor Samantha Paradis said that while she initially had questions regarding possible environmental issues, those fears were quickly assuaged.
“I initially had some questions, I think as other people will have questions about the environmental impact, but I soon learned how conscious they are of that, and the renewable energy that they intend on using and so those initial questions were answered, and I feel confident that this will be a great investment for Belfast,” she said.
Paradis also said she foresees a positive effect on the local seafood business.
“I think that this opportunity will embrace other businesses too, and that’s some of what [Heim] talked about today, to maybe process the fish that’s grown,” she said.
There were several other politicians who expressed their support and excitement regarding the development, including U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who said: “Maine’s fishing industry is a vital part of our economy, our coastal communities, and our state’s heritage. Nordic Aquafarm’s decision to build an innovative, environmentally friendly aquaculture facility in Belfast will help expand this important industry and create new jobs for Mainers. This significant investment is great news for Belfast and the surrounding communities.”
U.S. Senator Angus King said aquaculture is a growing force in Maine’s economy and is bringing new jobs and opportunities to Maine’s fishing industry.
“Nordic Aquafarm’s facility will build on our state’s rich fishing traditions and promote innovation and sustainability that can help Belfast and the surrounding community thrive. This is an investment in Maine people, Maine jobs, and the future of our economy. To the entire Nordic Aquafarm team: tusen takk og velkommen til Maine! (thank you very much and welcome to Maine),” King added.
Several informational meetings are being planned by Nordic Aquafarms, the City of Belfast, and the Belfast Water District, with the first expected to take place in February.
Erica Thoms can be reached at email@example.com