Nordic Aquafarms loses bid to use eminent domain to secure land for Maine RAS

A rendering of Nordic Aquafarms' planned salmon recirculating aquaculture system in Belfast, Maine, U.S.A.
Nordic Aquafarms' planned Belfast, Maine-based salmon recirculating aquaculture system facility is facing another huge hurdle as the city's council voted to vacate its decision to use eminent domain to access land needed for the project | Photo courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms
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Nordic Aquafarms has lost a key vote by the Belfast, Maine, U.S.A. city council, adding yet another roadblock to the company’s goal of building a salmon recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) in the city.

In a 5–0 decision, the Belfast city council vacated its 12 August 2021 move to use eminent domain to give Nordic access to a key piece of intertidal land. The vote followed an earlier meeting in April 2024 that saw the council vote to have Belfast City Attorney Kristin Collins draft an order of vacation, which was approved on 7 May.

The order directly addresses how a decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court determined that the intertidal land in question was not owned by the city of Belfast, and also that the original condemnation order had inaccuracies based on the outcome of that case and others. 

“Following the city council’s adoption of the condemnation order, the above-referenced decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affected the validity of several findings upon which the condemnation order was premised,” the recently-adopted order of vacation states. 

The night before the city council meeting, Nordic Aquafarms, on its Facebook page, asked residents of Belfast to lend support, citing the economic benefits the project could bring to the city, particularly to its tax base. 

“Their pending decision to potentially vacate the eminent domain action is shortsighted and not in the best interests of their tax paying constituents,” Nordic said.

Despite the company's objection, the council moved forward. The Republican Journal reported some councilors were upset with the lack of interaction between it and Nordic Aquafarms.

“I’ve been on the council six years, and Nordic has never come to speak to us as a council,” Belfast City Councilor Paul Dean said.

Opponents of the project, including Upstream Watch and Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area, celebrated the decision to vacate the eminent domain process. 

“The Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area commend the councilors for tonight’s vote,” the organization said in a release. “Since that August night in 2021, we have maintained that using eminent domain to take private property from one owner primarily to benefit a for-profit company was a mistake and abuse of power.”

Upstream Watch also commended the decision, and said it may be the end of the project.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Belfast City Councilors for their actions last night,” Upstream Watch said. “While this doesn't mean the end to Nordic quite yet, it does mean that their current project as it stands – which requires access to the Bay for intake and discharge pipes – has no path forward. And to our knowledge, Nordic does not have an alternative plan to propose.”

Alongside the council’s decisions, Upstream Watch has continued to appeal building permits Nordic Aquafarms obtained from the Belfast Planning Board, citing the company’s lack of land.

The Republican Journal reported Nordic Aquafarms U.S. CEO Brenda Chandler said the company will continue to litigate the issue of land access. On Facebook, Nordic Aquafarms also said options outside litigation are possible. 

“We have offered to meet with both Upstream Watch and the City, without lawyers, to discuss non-litigious options,” the company said. “That option remains on the table.”

In a statement sent to SeafoodSource, the company said it will continue to pursue the project. 

"Despite this turn of events, we remain optimistic while we continue to evaluate options that are in the interests of teh company as well as the local community and the broader region," it said. 

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