A key state legislative committee voted this week against recommending a proposal to allow the state to charge up to $250,000 in application fees for large scale aquaculture projects.
The bill was proposed by the Maine Department of Marine Resources as a way to cover the costs of vetting complicated aquaculture applications and prevent them from monopolizing the department’s resources to the detriment of others in the queue.
Seven of the marine resources committee’s 12 members voted against the bill. On Friday, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, said that she planned to ask the committee to reconsider the bill next week and, if allowed, would propose pulling the fee portion so two non-contested parts of the bill could move forward.
Those parts would allow applicants for emergency aquaculture licenses to be someone other than the holder of an existing lease and would allow land-based aquaculture licenses to run concurrent with discharge licenses.
The fee portion would have allowed a large increase in what large scale farms may be charged. The DMR currently charges between $100 and $2,000 for applications, depending on acreage, type of aquaculture and complexity. But some new applications for massive projects cost much more than that to process and take away from staff’s time to handle other applications.
DMR asked for the power to apply higher fees to certain projects and then bill them quarterly to cover the state’s costs. Officials said it was intended to be used sparingly and the fees would have to reflect the actual cost of handling the application.
During a public hearing on the bill last week, some members of the aquaculture industry worried the language defining what kind of project could incur extra fees was too vague and said the higher charges could be used to hinder the growing industry.
McCreight tried to squelch those worries Tuesday by proposing amendments to restrict the special fees to projects that have discharge permits and added a sunset clause for 2025. Currently, the only type of aquaculture projects that need such permits are finfish farms.
But some legislators remained unconvinced.
“I’m afraid if we make it so expensive, we may discourage good programs from going forward,” said state Rep. Sherman Hutchins, R-Penobscot.