Two fishermen glide in a dinghy toward the Beals Jonesport Co-op dock in Jonesport, Maine on Nov. 30, 2018. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

JONESPORT, Maine — Two weeks after local voters decided not to adopt a temporary ban on aquaculture development, the town’s planning board is reviewing Kingfish’s application to build a large fish farm off Route 187.

Roughly 50 people, not including town officials or representatives of the company, attended the board’s meeting Tuesday night at the local high school, where several rows of folding chairs had been set up to accommodate the larger-than-normal crowd.

The proposal has created local divisions between supporters who want economic development and don’t think it will cause harm and opponents who think it will hurt the environment and have an adverse impact on the town.

Kingfish Maine, a Dutch-owned firm, wants to develop a $110 million land-based fish farm for growing yellowtail on a 94-acre lot on Dun Garvan Road, next to Chandler Bay. Once it is complete, the development — one of four large-scale aquaculture projects that have been proposed in eastern coastal Maine — would initially create 70 jobs at the site and produce around 13 million pounds of yellowtail each year, Kingfish officials have said.

Tuesday’s meeting only covered a portion of the application. Another meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, will give the planning board more time to complete the review, though additional meetings may be necessary before the review is completed and a vote is taken.

Though some people at Tuesday’s meeting urged the board to reject the proposal, most in attendance seemed to support it. More than once, many attendees applauded when someone spoke in favor of, or expressed a sympathetic view with, the Kingfish proposal.

Elizabeth Boepple, a Portland attorney representing project opponent Protect Downeast, said the group has concerns about the project’s potential impact on the water quality of Chandler Bay and on neighboring property values. She also said that, because Kingfish plans to have housing onsite for some of its employees, the application should be subject to the town’s subdivision ordinance.

The members of Protect Downeast “are opposed to this industrial-sized fish farm,” Boepple told the board. “This is far from a simple process. We think you’ll find Kingfish has failed to meet local standards and the permit should be denied.”

A couple of residents also said they were concerned about the impact that trucks going to and from the plant would have on Route 187, which is maintained by the Maine Department of Transportation. That sheltered backup generators at the site might create pollution and noise when they turn on was also raised as a concern.

Supporters countered that Jonesport already has a lot of truck traffic with lobster bait being brought to town and lobsters being hauled away, and that there has been little to no objections to the impact those trucks have on the roads, or to pollution and noise from trucks or lobster boat engines.

Fishermen in Jonesport and Beals, its sister town across Moosabec Reach, landed nearly 20 million pounds of marine species — nearly all of which was lobster — in 2021, making the two-town community the busiest fishing port in all of Maine, according to the state Department of Marine Resources. Stonington, the next busiest, had less than 12 million pounds of landings last year.

Dwight Alley, a former Jonesport selectman, said he had not heard any good arguments for rejecting the proposal. He said the town should not continue to rely solely on the lobster industry, the future of which could be diminished because of the impact of climate change and federal whale protections.

“We all know lobstering is the life of our community,” Alley told the board. “We also know there are no guarantees it will continue the way it has.”

Kingfish already has received the state and federal permits it needs to begin construction, though an appeal of its state Department of Environmental Protection approval is still pending.

That appeal — filed by Sierra Club of Maine, the Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corporation and Eastern Maine Conservation Initiative — is being heard Thursday morning by the state Board of Environmental Protection.

Staff with DEP are recommending to the board that the appeal be denied on the grounds that the project will not have any unreasonable impacts on the surrounding environment, on nearby activities, or on local infrastructure or services. The fish farm also will not violate state water quality law, according to DEP.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....