A planned land-based Atlantic salmon farm in Bucksport intends to start pre-construction work on its land at the former Verso paper mill this spring, some of the first work at the site since the massive project got approvals in 2019.
Whole Oceans announced Thursday that it will soon begin preparation work for what would be one of the largest land-based, recirculating aquaculture systems in the world. The work will start on about 30 of its more than 100 acres of land at the old mill along the Penobscot River as design work on another parcel continues.
The company is finalizing an agreement with a Maine construction company to initiate site clean-up, grading and other work on one of the farm’s lots.
“I am looking forward to being in Bucksport and managing the initial site work and to seeing this project move forward,” said Mike Thompson, a project manager for Whole Oceans. “The Bucksport community has been tremendously supportive of our efforts to date and I share their enthusiasm for seeing site work get underway.”
Some of the work at the site will be exploratory. Whole Oceans officials said they would have to remove old buildings and underground pipes left behind by the paper mill as well as find out how deep some of the concrete foundations are at the site.
The site work is expected to run through the rest of the year. A start date for construction of the facility has not yet been set, a spokesperson said Thursday after the announcement.
In 2019, the company purchased one of the parcels at the old mill site, and received all the permits it needed to move forward. Whole Oceans later bought a second 10-acre parcel in late 2020, and said that with the addition, more planning was needed.
That planning is still ongoing for the second parcel, according to Thompson.
Until Thursday, there had been little word about the project outside of news about a legal dispute between Whole Oceans’ parent company and a consultant brought on to shepherd the project.
Unlike several other large-scale aquaculture projects around the state, Whole Oceans has enjoyed large local support. The company’s announcement was welcomed by town officials, who have been waiting to hear what’s next for the project.
“We’re very excited for the future of Whole Oceans and Bucksport,” said Rich Rotella, the Bucksport community and economic development director.
Once up and running, Whole Oceans said its goal is to grow 20,000 metric tons of salmon a year.