Three fishermen make their way back to shore in Jonesport, Maine, after tying their boat up at its mooring in Sawyer Cove on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. Credit: Bill Trotter| / BDN

The Board of Environmental Protection voted Thursday to uphold state approvals of a proposal to build a large-scale, land-based fish farm in Jonesport.

The Sierra Club of Maine filed an appeal last December seeking to overturn the approval by Maine Department of Environmental Protection for Kingfish Maine to install inflow and outflow pipes from Chandler Bay in a wetland where it plans to build on Dun Garvan Road.

The Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corporation, a family-owned entity with more than 100 members that owns Roque Island, which is nearly two miles away from the project site, joined in the appeal. So did Eastern Maine Conservation Initiative, which is closely affiliated with the homestead corporation.

The groups argued that Kingfish, which is seeking to develop a 94-acre property that fronts on Chandler Bay, provided “erroneous assumptions and outdated information” to DEP when it applied for approval to disturb a wetland to install the pipes, said Elizabeth Boepple, an attorney who represents the Roque Island owners. Sally Mills, another attorney representing the appellants, argued that the state did not do enough to consider the impact on eelgrass beds in the bay before it issued the permit.

“Eelgrass notoriously moves around,” Mills said about the aquatic plant’s tendency to shift locations from one year to the next. “Their analysis is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

Critics of the proposal have said treated water that would be discharged into the bay from the fish farm would have high amounts of nitrogen, which could hurt eelgrass and other marine life. Kingfish and state officials have said the nitrogen levels will be within allowable limits and is not expected to have a significant impact on the bay’s water quality.

Rachael Becker McEntee, an attorney representing Kingfish, told the board that the department’s decision to allow Kingfish to install the pipes through the wetland was “reasonable.” She said that Kingfish will be required to conduct ongoing monitoring of water it discharges into the bay to make sure nitrogen levels and other factors such as temperature are within the allowable limits.

“There won’t be impacts on those eelgrass beds from Kingfish’s operations,” she said.

Board member Babra Vickery seemed to express some sympathy with the appellants about how much testing and analysis should be required when development applications are submitted to DEP. She said, for example, that the state does not require applicants to assess the overall carbon footprint that their projects will have when completed.

“When is the state of Maine going to start requiring that?” Vickery said. “Wouldn’t that be a good idea?”

Mark Draper, another member of the board, said that he believes the department made the right decision when it granted Kingfish a permit under the Natural Resources Protection Act to install the water inflow and outflow pipes through the wetland. He said the company’s application meets the standards required by state and federal law.

“There are rules,” Draper said. “We can’t arbitrarily apply them in one case and not apply them in another.”

Kingfish officials have said the fish farm, once built, would employ 70 people onsite and produce around 13 million pounds of yellowtail each year.

Last summer, the Sierra Club of Maine appealed a decision by the state to issue Kingfish a wastewater discharge permit, but that appeal later was dismissed by the board.  The club lacked proper standing to appeal that decision and, under department rules, the discharge permit was not subject to review by the board, state officials said.

With the board’s denial Thursday of the latest appeal, the last permit Kingfish needs to obtain to start construction is a local building permit from the town of Jonesport. The town’s planning board has begun reviewing that project and, after reviewing parts of it on Tuesday night, is expected to finish reviewing it and then to vote on it in the next month or so.

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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....