The former Verso Paper mill in Bucksport, pictured in April. Credit: Gabor Degre

There are a number of steps remaining before the company planning a $250 million indoor salmon farm in Bucksport breaks ground on its facility on part of the former Verso Paper mill site.

But after the company, Whole Oceans, closed on its purchase of a portion of the former mill site Tuesday, there’s excitement in town about the coming development, as well as some relief. The transaction between Whole Oceans and the mill site’s owner, American Iron and Metal, for an undisclosed price was the most tangible sign yet that the project first announced in February 2018 was moving forward.

“Many people were … just getting nervous that it took longer than expected,” said Brook Ewing Minner, executive director of Main Street Bucksport, a nonprofit downtown business group formed in 2014. “No one really had the inside scoop on what was going on except AIM and Whole Oceans, and for good reason, but most people expected it to close earlier in the year.”

[Bucksport salmon farm developer closes deal on part of former mill site]

Now, Whole Oceans is starting to finalize its engineering design, putting its construction contracts into place and applying for permits to proceed with the construction of what promises to be one of New England’s first land-based salmon aquafarms, spokeswoman Angie Helton said Wednesday.

Construction of its first phase, a $75 million investment that could bring with it 50 jobs, should begin by the end of the year, Helton has said. If all goes well, the salmon farm is expected to grow to 200 workers through two more phases of construction.

The company plans to apply for site permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the town of Bucksport within the next month or so, Helton said.

The design of the project will undergo some modifications, Helton said, though she didn’t specify what those changes would be.

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Bucksport Town Manager Susan Lessard said she expects little difficulty for Whole Oceans in securing the town’s site permit. The salmon farm is an environmentally friendly industrial use in an industrial zone, replacing a previous occupant — the paper mill — which generated a great deal more of pollution, she said.

The wastewater discharge permit the company already received from Maine DEP allows Whole Oceans to discharge an average of 18.6 million gallons of filtered water per day into the Penobscot River to grow salmon from egg to 10 to 12 pounds per fish, gradually increasing production in three phases.

The company is also recruiting additional personnel, Helton said, although she did not specify how many or elaborate on the jobs they would be doing.

When the project was first introduced, Whole Oceans said the construction would take 16 months to complete.

Whole Oceans is a subsidiary of Emergent Holdings, a private investment partnership formed to invest in North American aquaculture and agricultural markets.

Watch: Verso Paper millworkers end final shift