A 2018 artist’s rendering of the Nordic Aquafarms facility proposed for construction beside the Little River in Belfast. Courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

ME - Court deals blow to $500 million fish farm plans on Midcoast mud flats

The proposed salmon-raising facility in Belfast got a setback when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling that sorts out who owns a parcel of intertidal land.

A Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling over the ownership of some mud flats in Belfast has created a major hurdle for a $500 million fish farm planned there.

At the center of the dispute is Nordic Aquafarms’ plans to run piping underneath the property from the company’s proposed salmon facility, which would be built on 54 acres just west of Route 1. To connect with Penobscot Bay, the inflow and outflow water pipes need to cross intertidal land that Belfast officials say belongs to Janet and Richard Eckrote. Most city officials support Nordic’s proposal for the fish farm and, to help clear the way, the city bought the Eckrotes’ land in 2021.

But a local advocacy group that opposes the project, Upstream Watch, disputed the ownership. According to Upstream Watch, the intertidal land is actually owned by another couple, Jeffrey R. Mabee and Judith Grace, and there is a conservation easement that precludes any non-residential use of the property.

That dispute went to court, where a Waldo County Judge in October 2021 sided with the Eckrotes, the city and Nordic. But the Supreme Judicial Court on Feb. 16 disagreed, saying the land in fact belongs to Mabee and Grace, and that there is a valid conservation easement on the property. The ruling, however, did not include steps to enforce the conservation easement because that matter was not before the court.

After poring over decades of deeds, the court found the land was originally purchased by Harriet L. Hartley in 1935 and that she sold off three parts of it between 1946 and 1950. In one case, Hartley explicitly said in sale documents that the property being sold did not include any intertidal land, and the court ruled that the intertidal portion remained with the tract that is now owned by Mabee and Grace.


Salmon farm could be headed for landlocked Millinocket

Nordic issued a statement saying it was studying the decision and contemplating its next move.

The company’s proposal for Belfast is one of many aquaculture projects that have recently been contemplated for sites along the state’s coast. Some communities have welcomed the investments and expected jobs, and plans are moving ahead.

Even an inland community has generated interest from aquaculture companies. Portland-based Katahdin Salmon and a nonprofit group, Our Katahdin, recently leased 45 acres of land at a former paper mill in Millinocket, over 100 miles from the coast, with plans to build a land-based farm. Like the Nordic project, the facility at the mill site – now known as One North – would cultivate Atlantic salmon in water that is continuously recirculated and sanitized.

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