Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: August 16, 2021

Belfast council votes to seize mudflat for Nordic Aquafarms project

industrial interior COURTESY / NORDIC AQUAFARMS INC. The Belfast City Council voted to seize a stretch of mudflat for Nordic Aquafarms’ intake and discharge pipes. Seen here is an interior view of the firm’s similar facility in Frederikstad, Norway.

The Belfast City Council unanimously voted to seize a stretch of mudflat that’s been the subject of a title dispute, in a move that’s expected to advance Nordic Aquafarms' proposal to build a land-based salmon farm.

The Norwegian firm proposes to acquire land on U.S. Route 1 to build the facility.

The proposal would run intake and discharge pipes from the facility to Belfast Bay, buried under land owned by the city. The city acquired the land, which includes an upland portion and an intertidal portion, in July.

But neighboring residents have claimed ownership of the intertidal portion of the land.

The council held a public hearing last week on its intention to clear the issue by exercising eminent domain.

At a previous meeting, the city’s attorney, Bill Kelly, told the council it has the right to clear defective title by exercising eminent domain for the public benefit.

At the public hearing, though, numerous opponents said the seizing was for the benefit of Nordic Aquafarms, not Belfast as a whole.

One opponent said Nordic’s promise of jobs is “vaporous.” He suggested the presence of the industrial operation would negatively impact the city’s character. “It seems you’ll be killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said in the hearing.

“In my opinion, the city of Belfast is making a big mistake going down the road of eminent domain,” said Belfast resident David Smith. “The people of Belfast are not served by taking land. This heavy-handed approach will only increase the level of conflict in the community.”

Jeffrey Mabee, one of the residents who said the land belongs to him and his wife, said the couple has documentation going back 50 years to prove their claim. He said that using eminent domain to take land from a private landowner and give it to a private corporation was illegal.

“The council is buying the city into a lawsuit, which we know Nordic Aquafarms will pay for,” he said.

Others said the firm’s operations will have negative consequences on the intertidal area and the bay.

Others supported the project. 

“I think it will give many jobs to a lot of local people,” said one.

Council members acknowledged the seizure would benefit Nordic but said the farming facility would be a public benefit, by providing jobs and property tax revenue. Nordic’s agreement to buy water from the Belfast Water District would provide sufficient revenue for the district to build new infrastructure and institute lower fees for ratepayers, the council continued.

“There’s no question this project will benefit the people of Belfast,” said Councilor Michael Hurley. 

Scores of people attended the hearing virtually and in person. The council said they also received nearly 80 emails on the topic.

“I received a lot of email in the last couple of days that was pretty much split down the middle, opponents and proponents of this measure,” said Councilor Neal Harkness.

Eric Sanders, the city’s mayor, noted that Nordic brought the project to the city nearly four years ago. The firm recently received the last permit needed to get the operation off the ground.

“It cements in my mind that they’re serious about coming to Belfast,” Sanders said.

“We believe most people in Belfast support Nordic Aquafarms and that the City Council has done what is best for the city and its residents,” Erik Heim, president of Nordic Aquafarms, said in a subsequent news release.

Nordic has said that, with all its permits in place, it can move into the final stages of engineering and construction planning, although there are outstanding appeals on some of the permits.

If the facility goes forward, total capital investment is expected to be between $450 million and $500 million for an end-to-end operation, on 54 acres, that includes hatcheries and fish processing. The goal is to construct in several phases a land-based salmon operation with annual salmon production capacity of 30,000 metric tons, or 66 million pounds. The first phase was expected to cost $150 million.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF