State Council Denies State Permit Appeal for Jonesport Fish Farm Proposal

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The Environmental Protection Board voted on Thursday to uphold state approvals for a proposal to build a large-scale land-based fish farm in Jonesport.

The Sierra Club of Maine filed an appeal last December seeking to overturn the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s approval for Kingfish Maine to install Chandler Bay inlet and outlet pipes in a wetland. where he plans to build on Dun Garvan Road.

The Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corporation, a family-owned entity of more than 100 members that owns Roque Island, which is nearly two miles from the project site, has joined the call. So has the Eastern Maine Conservation Initiative, which is closely affiliated with Homestead.

The groups argued that Kingfish, which is seeking to develop a 94-acre property overlooking Chandler Bay, provided “faulty assumptions and outdated information” to the DEP when it sought permission to disturb a wetland to install the pipes, said Elizabeth Boepple, an attorney who represents the owners of Roque Island. Sally Mills, another attorney representing the appellants, argued that the state did not sufficiently consider the impact on eelgrass beds in the bay before issuing the permit.

“Eelgrass is notoriously mobile,” Mills said of the aquatic plant’s tendency to change location from year to year. “Their analysis is good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

Critics of the proposal said treated water that would be discharged into the bay from the fish farm would contain large amounts of nitrogen, which could harm eelgrass and other marine life. Kingfish and state officials said nitrogen levels would be within allowable limits and should not significantly impact water quality in the bay.

Rachael Becker McEntee, an attorney representing Kingfish, told the council that the department’s decision to allow Kingfish to lay the pipes through the wetland was “reasonable”. She said Kingfish will need to continuously monitor the water it discharges into the bay to ensure nitrogen levels and other factors such as temperature are within allowable limits.

“There will be no impact on these eelgrass beds from Kingfish operations,” she said.

Board member Babra Vickery appeared to express some sympathy with the appellants about the amount of testing and analysis that should be required when development applications are submitted to the DEP. She said, for example, that the state does not require applicants to assess the overall carbon footprint their projects will have upon completion.

“When is the state of Maine going to start requiring this?” Vickery said. “Wouldn’t that be a good idea?”

Mark Draper, another council member, said he believed the department had made the right decision in granting Kingfish a permit under the Natural Resources Protection Act to install the inlet and outlet pipes of water through the wetland. He said the company’s app meets the standards required by federal and state laws.

“There are rules,” Draper said. “You cannot arbitrarily apply them in one case and not apply them in another.”

Kingfish officials said the fish farm, when built, would employ 70 people on site and produce around 13 million pounds of yellowtail flounder each year.

Last summer, the Sierra Club of Maine appealed a state decision to issue Kingfish a sewage discharge permit, but that appeal was later denied by the board. The club did not have standing to appeal the decision and, under department rules, the discharge permit was not subject to board review, state officials said.

With council’s denial of last appeal Thursday, the final permit Kingfish must obtain to begin construction is a local building permit from the town of Jonesport. The city’s planning board began reviewing the plan and, after reviewing parts of it Tuesday night, is expected to complete its review and then vote on it around next month.

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