Nordic Aquafarms files complaint challenging Maine city council's eminent domain decision

A rendering of Nordic Aquafarms' proposed recirculating aquaculture system in Belfast, Maine, U.S.A.
Nordic Aquafarms has filed a complaint that the company said was made in part to determine whether the city of Belfast, Maine, U.S.A., could carry out a revocation of its earlier attempt to use eminent domain without doing its due diligence | Image courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms
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Nordic Aquafarms has filed a complaint in Waldo County Superior Court seeking to reverse a Belfast City Council decision that closed its eminent domain bid to secure land needed for its planned recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) facility in Belfast, Maine, U.S.A.

The Belfast council originally voted on 7 May to vacate the company's condemnation order that would have seen the city use eminent domain to give Nordic access to a key piece of intertidal land. That land was subject to a lawsuit launched by Jeffrey R. Mabee and Judith B. Grace, which included the Maine Supreme Judicial Court finding that Nordic Aquafarms did not have sufficient right, title, or interest to the land.

That court decision placed the key piece of land in the hands of Mabee and Grace and, thus, the recently formed Friends of the Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area – a land trust created in 2019. 

Nordic said in a release that its lawsuit is asking the Maine Superior Court to determine the validity of the Belfast City Council vote “and the effect of that order on the easement that the City had granted to Nordic in the meantime.”

“Having the Superior Court determine Nordic’s rights following the Council vote is an important part of the development process, and Nordic is committed to seeing it through,” the company said.

A spokesperson for Nordic Aquafarms told SeafoodSource the company filed the lawsuit in part to determine whether the city could carry out a revocation without doing its due diligence.

In its complaint, Nordic said that on 3 September 2021, the city conveyed a “Nordic Easement” to the company, which gave it “the right to install, operate, maintain, replace, upgrade, remove, and undertake all other activities deemed necessary and reasonable to facilitate obtaining water from and discharging effluent into the Atlantic Ocean.”

The 2023 Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision derailed that plan, but the company asserts that the city still has the right to acquire the intertidal land.

“A municipality may acquire real estate for any public use via the condemnation procedure for town ways,” Nordic’s complaint said. 

The company further alleges that in revoking its condemnation order, the city violated state statutes. 

“By approving the revocation order without resolving the dispute regarding the municipal boundary, defendants abused their discretion, committed errors of law, and made findings that were not supported by the evidence,” Nordic’s complaint said. 

The company also asserted its easement remains valid and enforceable, regardless of the city’s revocation order. 

In response to the complaint, the Friends of the Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, a group opposed to the construction of the RAS facility, criticized Nordic's filing.

“The company is suing on the grounds that the city did not determine its municipal boundaries before vacating the order. This is despite the existing surveys that clearly define the boundaries and the mouth of the Little River,” the organization said on its website.

The organization said it will “forge ahead to protect the bay” in light of the latest efforts by Nordic Aquafarms.

Nordic said it is still committed to the project.

“We are dedicated to Belfast and want to continue bringing other economic benefits to Belfast and the surrounding region by completing the development of its fully permitted on-land aquaculture facility,” Nordic Aquafarms said.  

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