A computer rendering of the proposed Nordic Aquafarms site in Belfast. Credit: Courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

BELFAST, Maine — A proposal to build a $500-million land-based salmon farm here has drawn both broad support and loud opposition from the community, which largely remains divided over the project’s potential to spur economic growth versus the environmental harm it poses to Penobscot Bay and the surrounding area. 

Norway-based Nordic Aquafarms has filed thousands of pages of legal documents and permit applications with local planners and officials that aim to address some of these concerns. 

But questions remain.

Here is a brief primer for those who want to learn more about the project. It by no means should be considered exhaustive, but rather aims to answer common questions about the project. 

If you have a question about the project, email me at acurtis@bangordailynews.com. The BDN plans to update this article in the future to answer some of those questions.

Nordic Aquafarms 101

Who’s behind this plan and what’s their ultimate goal? Nordic Aquafarms is a Norwegian-owned company that announced plans to build a land-based salmon farm in Belfast in January 2018. The company has facilities in Denmark and Norway, with another one in development in northern California. The Belfast project is designed to be the company’s flagship facility. Its goal is to produce 72.7 million pounds  (33,000 metric tons) per year of “safe, high-quality and sustainable seafood” for consumers in the northeastern United States.

Where would the farm be built? Nordic Aquafarms has agreements with the Belfast Water District and two nearby property owners to secure 54 acres on the Little River, on the southern end of the city near the Northport town line. Currently, the land is mostly woods and fields. The company would like to build a total of 10 buildings in two phases at the site.

Credit: Courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

 What type of buildings? The company would construct its own wastewater treatment plant and central utility plant, and eventually build a visitor’s center on the property.  

Nordic would import Atlantic salmon eggs which would be hatched in its hatcheries and raised to maturity in its tanks, which Nordic officials have described as the “largest aquaculture tanks in the world.” The market-sized fish will then processed in a separate building to make the final product of head-on gutted fish and filets. 

What about water usage? Raising all those fish will require a lot of water. When fully built out, the project will use roughly 1,205 gallons per minute of fresh water drawn from three sources: the Belfast Water District municipal supply, groundwater wells on site and surface water from Belfast Reservoir No. 1, a 55-acre containment pond near the mouth of the Little River. The reservoir is owned by the water district and served as a water source for the city until 1980. Additionally, the project will use nearly 4,000 gallons per minute of seawater from Belfast Bay. 

For comparison, at the proposed rate of water usage, water taken from these sources would fill an Olympic-size pool every two and a half hours.

Where will the wastewater from the farm go? Dirty wastewater from the farm’s recirculating aquaculture system, will be filtered through a five-stage filtering and sterilizing process before eventually being discharged into Penobscot Bay through a 36-inch diameter pipe. Up to 7.7 million gallons per day will be treated with steps that include microfiltration and ultraviolet sterilization of the liquid effluent, according to the waste discharge permit application that is being reviewed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. 

How will Nordic get its pipes to and from Penobscot Bay? Logistics have not been finalized. A lawsuit was filed this summer on the matter and litigation is still pending.

Related: Watch the Dec. 17 meeting about the proposed Belfast fish farm