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November 7, 2018

Opponents of Belfast salmon farm defeated in city election

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Erik Heim, president of Nordic Aquafarms, shown here in his Portland office, expressed gratitude this morning for Belfast voters backing city councilors supportive of the $150 million project over three opponents who opposed it.

Plans for a $150 million land-based salmon aquaculture facility in Belfast appear to remain on track after opponents of the project were defeated Tuesday in elections for three seats on the six-person City Council.

Incumbent Councilor Neal Harkness turned away challenger Joanne Moesswilde by a 6% margin, 1,818 to 1,637, according to unofficial results reported by the Bangor Daily News.

Incumbent Mary Mortier trounced write-in challenger Ellie Daniels by more than a 3-to-1 ratio, 2,199 to 691, while political newcomer Paul Dean won an open seat over write-in candidate Jim Merkel by an even larger proportion, 2,190 to 555.

Daniels, Merkel and Moesswilde all have vigorously opposed efforts by Norway-based Nordic Aquafarms to build one of the world's largest indoor salmon farms on a 40-acre site off U.S. Route 1. All three sought election in part because they believe the council embraced the plan too quickly, according to the BDN.

The project, announced in January, requires approvals from state and federal agencies as well as local permits and zoning changes. The council has strongly endorsed the changes, but Tuesday's election threatened that support.

"The citizens of Belfast have spoken and have elected councilors who support our world-class fish farm moving forward through the permitting process," Nordic CEO Erik Heim said Wednesday in a written statement.

"We are grateful to the people of Belfast and their leaders for their support. We will continue to be open, transparent and collaborative in all aspects of this project, which has so many benefits for Belfast and Maine."

Earlier this week, the company said it will hold a series of information meetings over the next two months to address public concerns and questions.

Other local results: Rent laws pass in South Portland, Yarmouth

Also on Tuesday, South Portland voters backed that city's recent restrictions on short-term rentals of residential properties.

With a balloting of 6,375 to 5,378, according to the Portland Press Herald, voters approved an ordinance banning stays in homes where the owner is not present, and limiting the number of short-term renters in owner-occupied homes to six.

The City Council had passed the ordinance in July, but a subsequent referendum petition resulted in the restrictions going to voters for approval. The new law is a relaxed version of a previous ordinance, passed in February, that met with similar opposition.

Real estate rental regulations were also a hotly contested issue on the ballot Tuesday in Yarmouth.

By only a 33-vote margin, voters there backed a referendum requiring landlords to give tenants 75-days' notice of rent increases, and establishing a committee to advise the town on leasing regulations.

Yarmouth approved the ordinance by a vote of 2,423 to 2,390, according to the town website.

The measure was proposed by Town Councilor April Humphrey, and advocates said it provides much-needed protections for renters.

Opponents claimed the notice requirement unfairly targets a single large landlord, Taymil's Partners LLC, which owns four Yarmouth rental properties.

An opposition campaign was led by Brit Vitalius, a Yarmouth resident who is principal of Portland-based Vitalius Real Estate Group and president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association.

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