JONESPORT, Maine — The Planning Board on Tuesday gave its final approval to Kingfish to build a $110 million fish farm at Natt Point, but the company needs to raise more money and deal with ongoing appeals before construction begins.
The board met for more than an hour at the town office and decided to add two more water testing sites to Kingfish’s permit, giving the company six overall. In addition to the testing sites identified by Jonesport, the state will require Kingfish to regularly monitor water quality at four sites in Chandler and Englishman bays to make sure discharges from the land-based fish farm don’t produce too much nitrogen.
As a condition of its shoreland zoning permit, Kingfish will have to pay for the monitoring and for an independent consultant to analyze the test results. The consultant will provide reports of the results and its analysis to the town every 3 months.
“This is it,” Megan Sorby, project manager for Kingfish Maine, said after the board’s unanimous vote to approve the project. “We are hopeful construction will start next year.”
But pending and expected appeals could affect when the building project gets underway.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has approved other aspects of the project, including allowing the company to install intake and discharge pipes through a wetland. Although there were appeals of the approval, the state Board of Environmental Protection denied them.
Kingfish also has approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend intake and discharge pipes out into Chandler Bay.
Two groups — Eastern Maine Conservation Initiative and Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corporation — have appealed the state approvals to Kennebec County Superior Court. Both the state approvals for Kingfish under the Natural Resources Protection Act and the Site Location of Development Act are being challenged, Sorby said.
The state should have required Kingfish to demonstrate why it is necessary to impact wetlands at Natt Point instead of building somewhere else or building a closed recirculating aquaculture system that does not draw from or discharge water into Chandler Bay, according to the opposition groups. The groups also wrote in the court appeal that the Department of Environmental Protection erred by not conducting its own assessment of the impact that the project will have on wildlife habitat.
Sorby said the company likely will wait for those appeals to be decided before starting construction at the 94-acre site. She also said, without providing details, that the company will look to raise more money from investors before building gets underway.
The company already is growing its broodstock at the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, and will need 18 to 24 months of construction before it is ready to move those fish to the fish farm, and then another nine to 12 months before the fish are ready to harvest, Sorby said. Overall, full construction of the fish farm is expected to take three years.
Elizabeth Boepple, a Portland attorney representing Protect Downeast, said Tuesday that the group plans to appeal the planning board approval to the town’s appeals board on the grounds that the town has not imposed adequate conditions on the building permit to protect the water quality of Chandler Bay.
Protect Downeast says that the fish farm will impair the ability of eelgrass to grow in shallow water in the area, in violation of the town’s shoreland zone ordinance. But in the town’s building permit approval, the planning board says it determined that the increase in nitrogen levels in the bay will not harm eelgrass.
In addition to regular water quality monitoring at the six identified testing sites in Chandler and Englishman bays, Protect Downeast wants Kingfish to pay for independent ongoing assessments of the farm’s impact on nearby eelgrass, and to monitor discharge into Chandler Bay during the gradual build-up of fish production.
If Jonesport’s appeals board upholds the Planning Board approval, then that appeal also might end up in Superior Court, she said.
“We don’t have any expectation that the Jonesport Board of Appeals will be the endgame here,” Boepple said. “We’re prepared to go to the next stage if that is necessary.”
Correction: an earlier version of this story identified the wrong county where the court appeal has been filed.