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Updated: September 5, 2019

Whole Oceans gets Bucksport planning approval

Courtesy / Town of Bucksport This image shows a November 2018 concept plan developed for the former Verso mill site by American Iron & Metal in partnership with the town of Bucksport and Eastern Maine Development Corp. The proposed Whole Oceans site is at top outlined in red. Additional concepts include a “marine campus” at center and expanded port infrastructure.

The Bucksport Planning Board has approved Whole Oceans’ application for a salmon aquaculture facility on the former Verso Paper mill site.

At its Sept. 3 meeting, the board approved the application, although it's contingent on the Portland-based company obtaining other necessary permits for the project.  

Whole Oceans owns 104 acres at the site, on Route 15 just north of the town center, and is proposing to build a land-based Atlantic salmon recirculating aquaculture system there.

The project would be a phased development that at full build-out, 10 years after groundbreaking, would have 945,000 square feet of building area, 1.372 million square feet of total impervious area and 1.43 million square feet of total developed area. 

According to the application, the earthwork stage of the project, expected to begin this fall or early winter, will include demolition of existing underground foundations and piping, demolition of existing water storage tanks, removal of ledge and soils and grading of the site in preparation for a hatchery. It’s expected excavation within the proposed building foundation areas will be brought down to elevation by 41 feet. The phase will affect about 22 acres.

The next stage will be construction of the “Freshwater Building” to house aquaculture systems designed to support the hatching of fish eggs, along with freshwater and saltwater systems to support fish growth for the first 10 months of their life.

It’s also expected that administration and operational office space will be in this building. This phase will include installation, connection to, and construction of underground utilities, improvements to the sites north and south access ways; and construction of a water treatment system, wastewater treatment system, water storage tank reconditioning, and power generation pads, buildings and equipment. The building is expected to be 90,000 square feet. Construction of the foundation for the first building is expected to start in May or June of 2020. 

Next on the construction schedule is the “South Grow-out Building,” which will house large recirculating units and infrastructure to raise the salmon to 10 to 12 pounds, a size suitable for processing. Warehouse space for fish feed, other operational supplies and a processing area will also be in the building, which is expected to be 350,000 square feet.

The 430,000-square-foot “North Grow-out Building" will house additional recirculating units and infrastructure similar to the south building.

Lastly will come development of ancillary buildings to support aquaculture use in the future. These buildings are proposed to be located northerly of the North Grow-out Building. Although the specific use of each building is not defined at this point, it’s expected this phase will result in 75,000 square feet of building area.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is currently reviewing Whole Oceans’ application for a long-term construction project permit for a phased project. 

“We expect approval in October,” said Jon Whitten Jr. of CES Inc., representing Whole Oceans.

As part of that permit, he said, Whole Oceans has entered into a voluntary response action plan with the DEP. 

“That’s a plan to react to any contaminated soil or hazardous waste that might be on the site from previous users,” he said.

The $75 million first phase of development is expected to provide capacity for growing 5,000 metric tons, or 11 million pounds, of Atlantic salmon. Once fully operational, the facility's expected capacity will be double that amount.

Building designs have not been finalized yet, Whitten said. Whole Oceans will get updated approvals from DEP as the buildings are finalized. The facility will be surrounded by biosecurity fencing with manned gates.

Although the project involves about 1 million square feet of developed area, most of that is actually redevelopment of the former mill site, he noted. There’s only 65,000 square feet of new development. 

The project will include water supply and wastewater treatment systems that will include new connections to domestic water and sewer lines, new connections to a raw, freshwater supply line from Silver Lake, upgrades to the existing salt water intake/pump system, reconnection to existing discharge pipes in the Penobscot River, new water treatment system and a new wastewater treatment system. Power for the facility will be handled with new electrical transmission equipment on the Whole Oceans property.

Whole Oceans announced in May that it closed on the purchase of property from American Iron and Metal Development USA LLC. Emergent Holdings of  Portland, formed exclusively to invest in aquaculture and agricultural markets in North America, is the parent company of Whole Oceans. Whole Oceans is seeking sites for production on the West Coast, and has said it aims to capture 10% or more of the U.S. market for farmed Atlantic salmon.

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