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Steve Ryan is the executive director of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce.
I am writing on behalf of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, as it is our mission “to promote a dynamic economy and strong communities through economic development, business advocacy, and member services for greater Waldo County.”
As we reflect on the past year, a troubling trend seems to be reaching an apex and should be the focus of constructive public discussion and actions. In Maine and in Belfast, as well as nationally, we appear to be struggling with applying established governmental processes in a timely and predictable manner. This should be a concern to all businesses and citizens throughout our region.
The Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce feels that it is essential for sound community decision making that we agree on the factors that will be used to evaluate local development proposals and then apply those in the regulatory process to come up with a timely decision. Our city council, Legislature and regulatory agencies have already developed just such guidelines, and we need to make the approval process timely and predictable.
Supporters of the proposed $500 million Nordic Aquafarms Inc commercial development in Belfast are cheering the recent approvals of multiple permits by both the citizen board of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Belfast Planning Board, while opponents of the project have already announced their intentions to appeal these permits.
Let’s not forget that the history of the project is long and exhaustive. An unprecedented number of hearings by the company and by regulators have described, discussed and dissected every aspect of the project, including many that are not part of any regulatory standard by which they will be judged. Experts, intervenors and regulators have filled uncountable pages with facts, opinions and illustrations. The applications and deliberations have literally taken years.
The right to contest and oppose is critical to our American system of democracy and justice. It must be a cherished right to be able to present disputing information and be heard. Appeals are an important element of this right to take a stand.
However, when the matter is heard, appeals are decided and the decision is made through the exhaustive methods described by our laws, then there must also be, for the sake of justice, an endpoint.
Without some assurance of finality, all businesses need to be concerned about their viability in Maine. What expansion or new opening would be safe from an onslaught of a well-funded few?
How can this balance be struck? We should all work in this New Year for some codified rules for how to address this challenge so that sensible business development continues across Waldo County.
Meanwhile, if there are unanimous approvals by multiple regulators across multiple jurisdictions, and court appeals have determined that the process has been sound, then Nordic seems like one of those proposals that should be allowed to move forward.