Demolition takes place at the former Verso Paper mill in Bucksport in August. Credit: Gabor Degre

A contractor has examined part of the former Verso Paper mill site in Bucksport to ensure that a proposed $180 million Atlantic salmon farm does not disturb archaeological remains that might be there.

The contractor hired by Whole Oceans, which hopes to break ground on the entirely indoor salmon farm later this year, examined the site Sept. 24 to determine whether the site contains remains from a 19th century Native American or European farm believed to have existed near the north entrance to the Verso site, said Angie Helton, Whole Oceans’ spokeswoman.

Whole Oceans hired the contractor after a local, amateur historian, Emeric Spooner, raised concerns that some aspects of local history would be lost from the development, said Susan Lessard, Bucksport’s town manager.

The likely location of remains is on the northern, riverside fringe of the Whole Oceans property, well away from demolition work done by site owner American Iron and Metal to prepare the site for Whole Oceans, as well as far from any place where Whole Oceans plans to build, said Lessard and Arthur Spiess, chief historic preservationist for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Verso Paper did not have buildings on that section of the property, either, before it closed the Bucksport mill in 2014.

If remains are there and are deemed to be of historic interest or value, Whole Oceans would likely alter its plans to increase the distance between its buildings and the remains, Lessard and Spiess said.

“They may put a greater setback from it depending on what this survey looks like, but it is not a site in the middle of what they are going to be building there,” said Lessard, who discussed the planned survey with Whole Oceans officials Monday.

A Phase I archaeological survey typically involves the review of the Maine Historical Preservation Commission’s site inventory, historic maps and other documents, then a visual inspection of the property, plus some shovel-pit testing — shallow test digs of about 50 square centimeters — of areas where historical content is most likely to be. The commission then reviews the survey results.

The review would lead to a decision on whether historical artifacts on the site should be preserved. The commission typically requires 100 to 200 Phase I surveys of the approximately 2,000 projects it reviews annually, Spiess said.

The contractor that examined the Bucksport site will submit a formal report of findings and recommendations to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission for review, Spiess said.

The company’s application for a building permit from the Bucksport Planning Board calls for earth work on 22 acres of the site to start in November. That work, estimated to cost about $6.5 million, would include demolishing paper mill foundations, piping and storage tanks to make way for the company’s proposed freshwater building, where Whole Oceans plans to hatch salmon eggs and raise the young fish to 10 months of age.

Watch: Why so many fish farms are slated to open in Maine

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