Nordic Aquafarms counters Sierra Club Maine’s opposition to project

Nordic Aquafarms, which is seeking to build a recirculating aquaculture system to raise Atlantic salmon in Belfast, Maine, U.S.A., has released a response countering a recent decision by Sierra Club Maine’s executive committee to oppose the company’s USD 500 million (EUR 445 million) project.

Sierra Club’s decision came alongside a press release by the organization calling for further transparency from Nordic, and objecting to the company’s current proposal. In the release, Sierra Club objected to multiple aspects of the company’s proposal, including its plan “to draw 1,200 gallons per minute of fresh water from the local aquifer and release 7.7 million gallons of waste water a day into Penobscot Bay.”

The Sierra Club release also had questions from the executive committee about the differences between the proposed facility for Belfast, Maine, and a separate Nordic Aquafarms RAS project planned near Eureka, California. 

“Members of the Executive Committee cited general concerns about the carbon-footprint of fish farming, and pondered why a second NAF land-based salmon farm planned near Eureka, California is designed to be a recirculating aquaculture, calling for little to no waste discharged,” wrote Sierra Club in the release. 

Nordic Aquafarms challenged a number of points in The Sierra Club's statement, saying “the decision to oppose the project was based on grave factual errors that easily could have been avoided by attending our meetings.” The 1,200 gallon number, for example, is inaccurate, according to the company.

“As was stated in our public information meeting on [26] March, 2019, we will withdraw a maximum of 450 gallons [per] minute,” the release states. “Extensive testing and modeling have been conducted and will be submitted with our applications.”

Nordic also questioned what the organization meant by the differences between the Maine and California facilities. 

“The same technology will be employed in both Maine and California, with 99 percent water recirculation in our systems,” wrote Nordic Aquafarms. “They are correct that our California project will have a very low waste discharge, but that is also the case in Maine. Both projects uphold the same high environmental standards.”

Nordic Aquafarms president Erik Heim told SeafoodSource that a lot of the information has already been refuted in the past.

“Their release is full of misinformation and unsubstantiated claims, as we have seen from some local activists,” Heim said. 

Sierra Club Maine Director Alice Elliott, however, claims that many of the facts Nordic Aquafarms is calling misinformation come from documents provided by the company. 

“The water consumption number (1,200 gallons per minute from multiple wells on their site from the aquifer) came from Nordic’s expert report and their MEPDES permit application,” Elliott told SeafoodSource. “At the public information meeting [26 March] ... Nordic referenced getting 455 gallons per minute from wells — but did not reveal how much they would try to get from the city’s supply.”

The 1,200 gallons per minute number came from a report by a hydrogeologist done in May 2018, which indicates that the multiple wells on the site could be pumped for a sustainable combined yield of 1,200 gallons per minute. That report, said Heim, was based on finding how much the aquifer could provide, not how much the company needed. 

“It was a report from last May that there could be up to 1,200 gallons in the aquifer to take, that’s not saying that’s what we’re going to take,” he said. “We’re at a maximum of 450.”

The amount of water the company is expecting to extract from the city, which is supplied by the Belfast Water District, was part of initial examinations of the water district’s capacity. 

Engineers, performing capacity evaluations for the Belfast Water District, examined Nordic’s proposal using historical data on the various wells that supply the district. The study considered a maximum water withdrawal of 500 gallons per minute, or 262.8 million gallons of water per year. The study also considered a minimum withdrawal of 100 million gallons per year.  The report on the findings, as well, indicate that withdrawal at the maximum proposed level would be sustainable, even under drought conditions. 

Elliott added that the Sierra Club’s main concern, which was not mentioned in the organization's release about their decision to oppose the project, has to do with potential pollution that already exists in the bay. 

“Our primary concern, however, is the six [to] 12 tons of elemental mercury in the bay discharged by Mallinckrodt, formerly HoltraChem, at its Orrington chemical manufacturing plant,” she said. 

The Mallinckrodt/HotraChem facility manufactured chlorine, sodium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite (chorine bleach) hydrochloric acid, and more for decades upriver of the Belfast site, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The state has been forced to clean up the site of the plant due to contamination from decades of activity, and discharge from the plant went into the Penobscot River. The river leads to the Penobscot Bay, which Nordic Aquafarms will be using for salt-water supplies and discharge.  

“The Sierra Club of Maine will oppose any project that risks spreading HoltraChem legacy mercury contamination,” Elliott said. 

Heim, however, countered that the company has extensive data from past samples in the bay demonstrating that mercury contamination is not a problem, and that elevated levels of mercury aren't present. The company has also done some sampling of its own. 

“We have done bottom sampling along our pipe routes, and we have not found any elevated levels of mercury,” he said. In addition, in order for there to be contamination from the former chemical plant near the proposed discharge location, the mercury would have had to travel an extensive distance. “We measured it, it’s 30 kilometers.”

Heim added that the city of Belfast has been increasingly supportive of their project. 

“We have seen increasing support in Belfast as the facts have continued to come out, and many are seeing the lack of factual basis in opponent claims,” he said. 

He also added that Nordic is committed to transparency, and has been open to questions from anyone. 

“Efforts on transparency include: A number of voluntary information meetings in addition to required ones in the last year, an open door policy in Belfast for anyone to stop by and talk to us, monthly newsletters, numerous Q&A documents distributed, and more,” he said. “If you ask the city manager of Belfast, Maine & Co, Senator King's office, and others all will confirm that we have gone above and beyond.”


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