Artist's rendering of the proposed Nordic Aquafarms land-based salmon facility in Belfast. Credit: Courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

Opponents of a proposed land-based salmon farm in Belfast are hoping that a potential snag with a land lease will prove to be the end of the road for Nordic Aquafarms.

Upstream Watch and the Maine Lobstering Union, two groups that have worked to slow down or stop the fish farm, jointly submitted a second brief last week to the Maine Bureau of Public Lands. In it, attorney Kim Ervin Tucker objected to Nordic’s pending application for a submerged lands lease, arguing that the Norwegian-owned company does not have sufficient title, right or interest to cross the intertidal zone where it says it does.

Nordic has an easement across waterfront property owned by Richard and Janet Eckrote that lies between the proposed fish farm and Penobscot Bay. The company needs the easement to help site pipelines that will bring water in from the bay to the salmon farm, and to discharge filtered and treated water from the salmon farm back to the bay.

But in the 21-page legal document, Ervin Tucker worked to cast doubt on the easement, saying that the Eckrotes do not actually own the intertidal zone adjacent to their property and that their deed limits the property to residential use only.

Maine is one of just a handful of states where coastal landowners own the intertidal zone out to the mean low tide line, in accordance with a centuries-old Colonial Ordinance. In most places in the U.S., the intertidal zone is owned by the state.

“[Nordic Aquafarms] does not have, and cannot acquire, access to Penobscot Bay through the intertidal lands located between the upland property owned by the Eckrotes and Penobscot Bay,” she wrote.

The company vehemently disagrees with this assessment of the easement and the property it crosses, however.

“We’re confident that we’ll be granted the permit,” Marianne Naess, Nordic’s director of operations, said Monday.

It is the second challenge in two months by Upstream Watch and the Maine Lobstering Union to the salmon farm’s pending submerged lands lease application. Last month, despite the groups’ effort to have the state reject the application as being inadequate on the grounds of insufficiently demonstrated title, right and interest, Bureau of Parks and Lands officials ultimately determined to move forward with processing it.

This time, Ervin Tucker is arguing that the actual owners of the intertidal zone in question are Jeffrey R. Mabee and Judith B. Grace, a couple who do not consent to the pipelines crossing the property. In fact, to protect their property they have placed their intertidal zone under a conservation easement that would preserve it in its current condition and keep it free of any commercial or industrial structures. The conservation easement is being held by Upstream Watch, according to the brief.

“[Nordic] lacks the administrative standing required to file an application for a submerged lands lease or any of the required [Maine Department of Environmental Protection] permits,” she wrote. “[Nordic Aquafarms’] application for a submerged lands lease should be dismissed for lack of [title, right or interest].”

Carol DiBello, the submerged lands coordinator for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said this week that she has asked Nordic to send more documents to the state by Thursday, May 16.

“We have asked for Nordic to submit what they have to support their claim that the Eckrotes own the intertidal land,” she said. “We haven’t made any decision at this point. We are waiting to see what other information we get in.”

Naess said that Nordic is planning to submit the requested information by the deadline set by the state and that she does not foresee any problems with the lease.

“They have filed a conservation easement on the property they claim to own,” she said of Upstream Watch. “But we have [title, right and interest] to the property. We have everything we need.”