This waterfront spot on Penobscot Bay is where Nordic Aquafarms would like to bury its intake and outfall pipes. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — Nordic Aquafarms Inc., reached a milestone Thursday in its nearly three-year-long endeavor to build a $500 million indoor salmon farm in Belfast.

The Maine Board of Environmental Protection unanimously voted to approve its necessary permits for natural resource protection, site location, wastewater and air emissions.

Marianne Naess, the executive vice president of commercial for the Norwegian-owned company, said she was very satisfied with the board’s decision.

“And we’re satisfied that we can comply with any condition,” Naess said. “We think the board has done a thorough job and set precedence for future aquaculture projects as well, which is good for Maine.”

The Belfast Planning Board and the Army Corps of Engineers could rule relatively soon on whether to issue city and federal permits, she said.

But a wild card before Nordic can begin construction on the project is the land-use court case pending in Waldo County Superior Court. That case revolves around the ownership of the intertidal zone near the Little River where Nordic wants to lay pipes for the project. One set of property owners near the mudflat has negotiated a lease with Nordic so it can bury infrastructure there. But other neighbors claim they are the rightful owners of the mudflat and staunchly oppose Nordic’s plans to build on the site.

Waldo County Superior Court Justice Robert Murray will hold a hearing on the case on Dec. 23.

“We’re ready to start construction as soon as we receive our permits and de-risked the project, meaning that we have some conclusion on the legal dispute as well,” Naess said. “For us, the sooner the better.”

Nordic Aquafarms opponents, who worry the fish farm will harm the environment, disagree. They are pinning their hopes that the project ultimately will be thwarted by the court case.

Andy Stevenson of the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, a non-profit group that opposes the project, said the Maine BEP’s decision to issue the permits was expected.

“From the beginning, all of us in the opposing camp were concerned that the permitting process would result in the issuing of permits — and it did. We were not surprised,” he said.

Stevenson said he remains disappointed that, months ago, the Maine Attorney General’s Office ruled the Board of Environmental Protection could complete its review of the project before the court case is resolved. A ruling against Nordic could change everything.

“They won’t be able to build their pipelines, and without the pipelines there will be no plant,” he said.

However, proponents of the project celebrated the Board of Environmental Protection’s decision on Thursday.

“I am very excited that this is all wrapping up,” said Anne Saggese of The Fish Are Okay, a local advocacy group that supports the project. “Nordic Aquafarms really did a great job presenting their case and explaining what they plan on doing. The Board of Environmental Protection was incredibly professional and diligent with all involved parties.”

After watching the permitting process, she said she has “incredible respect” for the board.

“Those guys know what they’re doing. They care deeply about Maine’s environment, Maine’s reputation and Maine’s health, and it shows,” she said, adding that she is looking towards the future. “I can’t wait for 10 years from now, when Nordic is up and running and the city’s benefiting hugely from the increased tax base and increased employment … and there’s nothing wrong with the bay because of it.”