5 fish farms would dump 13,000 gallons of nitrogen into Downeast waters every day
Is aquaculture another CMP-like blunder for Mills Administration? Cui bono?
SOMESVILLE, Jan. 29, 2022 - Nitrogen is one of the major factors in the changing chemistry of coastal waters, resulting in algae blooms and loss of habitat.
As Portland goes about seriously reducing its level of nitrogen in Casco Bay, the waters around Downeast may be headed in the opposite direction in a big way, especially if the Mills administration has its say.
(Read this recent Washington Post article on the demise of the Florida coast.https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/25/florida-awash-in-dead-fish-red-tides/)
At a Zoom forum Tuesday attended by more than 150 persons, Frenchman Bay United President Henry Sharpe presented simulations of the concentration of nitrogen around the bay over time and its distribution, using data from American Aquafarms’s own DEP permit applications.
“These models suggest that the bay does not flush, that waste would continue to concentrate, that within just 30 days, nitrogen concentrations would exceed established regulatory thresholds, and that the so-called maximum ‘Permitted Load’ calculated by the applicant overstates the bay's assimilative capacity and understates the adverse impact of the proposed discharges,” Sharpe stated.
“Assimilative capacity” is a term poorly understood, said Brian Kavanah, chief of Maine DEP water bureau who returned QSJ’s call last night. That is a classification which aligns with Henry Sharpe’s definition of how well a body of water absorbs various discharges.
The DEP, Kavanah said, will approve applications which exceed that baseline classification by no more than 20 percent.
In other words, if your standard is that your 2-year-old poops in the bathtub, but you only allow a smaller, second poop, you’re good.
Unfortunately, Sharpe said, “So far, the models show no sign of establishing equilibrium. Water quality would continue to decline over time.”
The screenshot below from Sharpe shows two stars representing the proposed farm sites. Yellow is concentration of nitrogen in “non-eel grass areas.” Green is concentration of nitrogen - which fills almost the entire bay - above the threshold for eelgrass.
Eelgrass is an important habitat for baby lobsters and other shellfish and is particularly sensitive to the stress of too much nitrogen in the water.
The Maine chapter of the Sierra Club has determined that if all five proposed fish farms in Downeast become reality, they would “release over 4 billion gallons of effluent per day into waters that Maine’s lobster industry rely on to be clean, and would add 1,870,000 metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere, equivalent to adding 406,500 cars to Maine’s roads.
Key: *Mil lbs. = Million pounds of fish produced per year, MT = metric tons produced per year. **Mgd = million gallons of effluent per day to be discharged directly into coastal waters ***MT/yr. = metric ton (MT) CO2e generated per year. Carbon emissions for RAS (recirculating aquaculture systems) vary between 16.7 and 23 MT CO2e/MT fish produced. CO2e is estimated using a conservative 18 MT CO2e/MT fish for each of the 5 projects. ****Aquabanq decided to shift to zero effluent
“These carbon emissions represent 15.7 percent of Maine’s 2030 greenhouse gas target, not to mention dumping 13,082 pounds of nitrogen per day into Downeast waters.
“A proposed facility in Belfast would release a 7.7 million gallon/day waste water plume, containing 11-times more nitrogen than the Belfast City Sewer. Sea life including lice will be attracted to the odors of the plume while any viruses and diseases discharged could threaten endangered salmon recovery.”
But the state environmental “protection” agency seems bent on moving ahead swiftly with massive remaking of our coastal waters in Downeast. It has permitted both the land-based salmon farms in Belfast and Bucksport and one in Jonesport.
Putting the waters of Downeast at such a high risk is a calculus the Mills administration apparently is willing to accept.
The City of Portland learned that lesson the hard way. In 2017 it spent $12 million to upgrade the aeration system at its waste treatment facility to reduce nitrogen in Casco Bay. Not all towns will be able to add such an aeration system. The City of Portland stated in 2018 that a typical nitrogen removal system costs about $40 million.
In 2018, it reduced nitrogen by 20-40 percent with a 72 percent reduction in the seasonal effluent entering Casco Bay, a decrease in nitrogen levels from 2,437 lbs/day to 685 lbs/day.
The above chart showed how four fish farms would generate 13,082 pounds of nitrogen a day, or 19 times what the city of Portland is producing in Casco Bay.
Is the state of Maine willing to pay for this if its policies leads to a direct impairment of our coastal waters?
How Maine is betting economic gains outweigh pollution risks
The Mills administration has been invoking a 20-year-old memo to consider “economic benefits” against pollution risks when evaluating aquaculture permits.
The DEP granted Kingfish Maine a five-year water discharge permit for its yellowtail farm in Jonesport last year after economic development commissioner Heather Johnson urged approval because her analysis claimed jobs, local tax base increases and economic resiliency will accrue in Washington County.
DEP water bureau chief Brian Kavanah wrote in 2001:
“Where the DEP determines that that the lowering of water quality resulting from a new or increased discharge is necessary to achieve important economic or social benefits to the State, and where the DEP further determines that (1) existing in-stream water uses will be maintained and protected, and (2) the discharge is not to an outstanding national resource water, and (3) the standards of the assigned classification will be met in all receiving waters affected by the discharge or that the discharge will not cause or contribute to the failure of the receiving waters to meet standards, and (4) actual water quality is maintained and protected where any criterion of water quality exceeds the minimum standards of the next highest classification, then the requirements of the State's antidegradation policy will be deemed to be met, and the lowering of water quality will be approved.”
QSJ reached Kavanah Friday night and he said most of the conclusions in the memo were developed by his staff 20 years ago.
Were they saying it’s okay to pollute the bay to accommodate industrialization ? How is that different from Donald Trump’s stripping protections from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments?
See above for Kavanah’s explanation of the 20 percent rule.
And did the economic development commissioner consider the impact of the project on existing jobs - lobster harvesting or wholesale and retail sales, hospitality, tourism, real estate - or adverse impacts on property values of surrounding properties and/or diminution of marketability of other properties in Jonesport?
Those were exactly the concerns expressed by Jonesport Planning Board Chairman Frank Smith, who said last week the state didn’t consider whether the fish farm will devalue local properties or harm traditional fisheries. The board will still need to approve or reject the fish farm facility.
Kavanah didn’t have an answer except to say his agency accepted Johnson’s input.
So eager to grease the way for aquaculture, the Mills administration last February attempted to free land-based fish farms from Maine’s building and energy codes. A proposed bill, which was defeated, sought to exempt Whole Oceans from having to install sprinkler and air handling systems on its planned facility in Bucksport. This would have saved the company $33 million, according to The Free Press Online.
The rush to permit aqua farms may also run afoul of the Clean Water Act, which was the signature achievement of Maine’s Edmund Muskie.
Lastly, the opportunity costs of investing $1.3 billion dollars to grow 102,000 metric tons of fish in confinement “must be evaluated in terms of a similar investment into dam removal and the restoration of abused fisheries,” the Sierra Club stated.
Around the same time Heather Johnson was out promoting aquaculture, she was pushing the CMP Corridor project, which ended in a spectacularly disastrous fashion for the Mills Administration last November when a statewide referendum soundly rejected the idea to carve a path to the Massachusetts border to benefit mostly out-of-state electricity users.
Similarly in aquaculture, all the protagonists are foreign companies with the exception of AquaBanq, whose CEO said in August that his company withdrew its plan to produce land-based Atlantic salmon in Millinocket because "Norwegian land-based salmon operators have poisoned the well."
A.J. Shapiro was referring to the “die-off” of the only land-based fish farm in North America 10 months ago in Miami when 1.1 million pounds salmon perished, which he blamed for investor skittishness after the incidents.
The company, Atlantic Sapphire, in July 2020 was forced to initiate an emergency harvest of an estimated 200,000 salmon weighing a collective 400 Metric Tons which it blamed on “disruptive construction work close to the operating environment, including loud sounds and severe vibrations,” stressing the fish. And in February 2020, around 227,000 of its salmon died at its pilot farm in Denmark, likely as a result of exposure to high saturated nitrogen levels.
QSJ asked deputy DEP commissioner David Madore whether the agency took into consideration an industry’s history of accidents and other events.
“It would be impossible to make a Permit inclusive of every ‘what if’ situation,” he replied. “However … For aquaculture permits we have a Special Condition that speaks to best management practices that are taken from the Federal Concentrated Aquatic Animal Production (CAAP) regs that include items such as training of personnel, spill management, and storage of chemicals onsite. There may be other specific Operation and Maintenance items for other categories of discharge.”
How a 24-year-old lobster fisher is taking on a aquaculture giant in Downeast
JONESPORT - Holly O’Neal has become a face of defiance against unfettered aquaculture growth in Maine and that’s a problem for the Mills administration.
She’s worked the stern on her boyfriend’s boat the last four years, making good money and connecting with the organic offerings of the sea. She is a living tribute to Henry David Thoreau’s line,
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
She discovered this passion in young adulthood, after shuttling between Ohio and Maine, and finally settling in her beloved shoreline here, basking in the romance of a lobster fisher casting out into the beauty off the coast here each morning for five or six months a year.
Last year was good to her and boyfriend, $110,000 income on 400 traps, half of the maximum allowed by Maine.
“We’re at the bottom of what fishermen make here,” she said. But she’s content, working in the winter for a sustainable foresting firm.
So it’s an okay living. And it’s special. It’s so much the archetype of the Maine persona - independence, reliability, hard work, drawing sustenance from the outdoors.
Lobstering is the most sustainable fishery in the history of the United States. The fishers themselves imposed a size limit 150 years ago. It requires no industrial feed and emits no effluent of scale to manage. And it’s a major livelihood for many in Jonesport.
Washington County is a hard-scrabble place. It has the second lowest household income in Maine and the highest child poverty rate with one in four children in poverty, according to the 2020 census.
Still O’Neal is offended that Janet Mills would exploit the plight of Washington County’s to push for industrial fish farms which, she is convinced, would end her livelihood along with her fellow lobstermen. She distrusts the claims of jobs proffered by the Mills administration, which she finds condescending and insulting.
“Apparently, Washington County is considered poor enough that it should accept permanently sacrificing the quality of its own water, its biggest asset, to secure a hundred mostly minimum-wage jobs at a foreign-run plant. But considering Washington County’s deep dependence on and decades of success with the working waterfront, is this wise?” O’Neal stated.
It’s a David versus Goliath battle of immense consequence for Downeast.
“Everybody talks about the World War Two generation being the greatest generation,” said activist lawyer Kim Ervin Tucker. “To me, the millennials and the Gen Z years, they're the only hope for humanity and so when you meet her (O’Neal) you'll be really impressed because she just got all this energy and and commitment and is doing it in a really thoughtful and scientifically based way attacking this really improvident proposal, which is yet another example of where these foreign companies come into a community.
“They promise everybody a unicorn in a rainbow in their backyard … We're sustainable and we're clean and the waters gonna be cleaner and blah blah blah, blah, blah.
“And then they do a bait and switch … they want to basically treat waters of the state of Maine like a toilet … untried things that they'd never be able to do in their own home countries at the scale they're talking about.
“And the state of Maine has just rolled over like they're dead and want to roll out the red carpet for these companies, no matter how much they want to destroy our environment, our existing fishing industry, our waters, dumping just with absolute impunity.”
Tucker is the legal counsel for the Maine Lobster Union. She is appealing a court decision last October which gave Nordic Aquafarms the green light to begin construction planning for its project in Belfast.
That, and the work by Jim Merkel of the Sierra Club, caught the attention of Holly O’Neal. She started asking questions about Kingfish Maine’s proposal to build a land-based aquaculture system to grow yellowtail kingfish.
“There’s been very little questioning, very little resistance to Kingfish until recently,” O’Neal told Spectrum News. “There’s so many environmental and economic concerns I can’t even begin to say them all.”
Among the concerns are how much nitrogen will end up in Chandler Bay, how treated discharge will affect PH levels, where fish waste will end up and whether air quality will be impacted, O’Neal said. Her research and archiving would put a PhD candidate to shame. She’s made herself the authority on the Kingfish project in town.
Recently, she pointed to a map which showed the submerged pipe from the Kingfish pipe into Chandler Bay and dumping 29 million gallons of effluent a day.
“It seems that the lobster industry just can’t catch a break. Between windmills, whale regulations, and aquaculture companies, can fishermen keep their heads above water?” she wrote in one of her many treatises.
“Our marine fisheries are immensely prosperous. The lobster industry is an example. According to Maine.gov, Washington County collected 20.4 million lobster pounds for $83 million in 2019 alone. The 2020 figures were 19.2 million pounds at $73 million. Jonesport and Beals alone collected 22 million pounds between 2016-2020. Not bad totals, for a sustainable industry driven by self-made individuals without corporate oversight. This freedom is increasingly rare. Fishermen aren’t keen to see their livelihood tampered with, and the Kingfish plan comes with a variety of risks that stem mostly from scale and operational style.
Spectrum News reported that at an October meeting of the planning board, the company answered a few questions and indicated they hoped to break ground in late December or early this year. But when the company returned to the board in December, 30-40 people showed up, nearly all of them with concerns about the project, said local high school science teacher Richard Aishton.
“I think what has happened is there has been an awakening of the townspeople now and they are starting to wonder what the potential impacts are,” he said.
A forest engineer with an advanced degree in environmental science, Aishton said the area’s reliance on lobster fishing – not to mention harvesting scallops, mussels and clams – should be the primary driver for decisions made about the project. He said if the project moves forward, there should be enhanced “monitoring and remediation” to protect critical wildlife habitat in the area.
From O’Neal’s perspective, even major changes to the project, such as modifying the system so it does not discharge treated water back into the bay, won’t be enough to win her support.
“Kingfish is not showing my community the respect it deserves,” she told Spectrum News.
Who will replace Tremont select chair Jamie Thurlow? CTR head to PB: Listen to residents!
TREMONT - Who will emerge to run for select chair Jamie Thurlow’s seat on May 9 in what will be the most consequential municipal election in years?
Will Concerned Tremont Residents use its outsized influence to support a candidate who will listen to citizens?
Thurlow confirmed to QSJ that he is not seeking re-election in an email this morning. “I have put a lot of thought into this and I don’t think I will run again. I have done it for 6 years and I just have so much going on in my life.
“As my kids get older they are getting into sports etc and I want to make sure I am there. Gavin my oldest has really gotten into basketball this year and I want to make sure I am there for him. And of course as you know it has been one headache after another which is very stressful. Thanks.”
In a stinging rebuke to the Planning Board this week, Cindy Lawson, chief organizer of CTR, wrote in a letter, “Over the last couple of weeks, the words I am hearing from people are discouraged, disappointed, disheartened and unheard. People have expressed that they feel their voices do not matter, that they are discouraged from commenting in meetings, and are scared to speak up.
“As representatives of the voters and taxpayers, it is your responsibility to represent the collective voices of the community. While your personal feelings about something matter, they are not and should not be in the top consideration of your decisions for the community as a whole. The voices of the people should be a strong guide for you.”
Laura Grier, who listed herself as a Mount Desert resident, wrote, in a letter Jan. 19 in the Islander,
“Last week’s Planning Board meeting was a shameful display of bullying by two of its members towards one of their constituents. Mark Good and Brett Witham alternated between scolding the spokeswoman for Concerned Tremont Residents for not bringing specific recommendations and then telling her that the group was essentially irrelevant to the Planning Board process.
“The week before, CTR had held a forum designed by a planning expert to help focus the concerns around campgrounds as the campground moratorium is about to expire. While it did not yield specific ordinance recommendations, it did make clear what many residents want and don’t want.
“Is it the residents’ responsibility to draft a new land use ordinance (LUO)? Had they done so, it seems clear that Good and Co. would not consider it. Which way do you want it, guys?
“It has been painfully obvious for a year that the Tremont LUO is woefully inadequate in the face of development pressures. Has any progress been made on drafting a new set of ordinances? No.
“This is a small island with a small population and all of us who live here in any town are affected by what happens in neighboring towns. We need to expect more from our town leaders. They represent us.”
Tuesday night, the Planning Board began the process of watering down CTR’s proposals for ordinance changes. Members have essentially ignored a town wide survey of residents and CTR’s polling data to form policies based on their personal views.
On Nov. 1, minutes before midnight, the PB voted 3-0 to approve the application of Acadia Wilderness Lodge for a campground of 55 yurts in West Tremont. That campground is the subject of the fractious debate on whether the town should allow such development in essentially a residential zone. The next day, residents, by a 428-215 vote, approved a moratorium against campground development. That moratorium expires tonight.
In her letter to the PB, Cindy Lawson also stressed the need to develop a plan for affordable housing in Tremont. But the “planning” in Tremont’s Planning Board does not exit. It’s mostly a transactional body reacting to applications under the Mark Good era.
“I urge you as leaders in this town to put your finger on the pulse of this community and do a better job of engaging and gathering feedback from the people you are representing,” Lawson wrote. You may read her entire letter here.
CTR still has a card in its back pocket - it may call for a petition vote on proposed ordinance changes if the town boards refuse to act.
New Bar Harbor town manager humanizes the annual budget process
BAR HARBOR - Kevin Sutherland is proving to be a different flavor of town manager from the previous paint-by-numbers sort.
In his debut performance at two joint meetings of the town council and warrant committee this week, he not only exhibited knowledge and experience, but put faces behind the often faceless and thankless task of municipal governance.
Instead of having his department heads run through the 2023 budget ad nauseum, he had them explain their jobs, staffing and functions. They became storytellers. It humanized the process and turned an annual obligation into an opportunity.
View videos of the meetings here:
Sutherland started the meetings by brilliantly simplifying the mission and to state that 91 percent of Bar Harbor’s revenue goes to support three functions:
You may read his entire presentation here:
“We never got such a comprehensive view at what our departments/staff do,” stated a member of the Warrant Committee. “The truth is they work pretty hard.
“Kevin's got some vision! I'm excited about this new era for BH.”
TRIBUTE: Orton E. Preble
2022 - 2022
HANCOK - Orton E. Preble, 82, passed away on Jan. 21, 2022, due to illness. He was born April 10, 1939, in Gouldsboro the son of John and Reta (Myrick)Preble.
He was a member of the Hancock Congregational church. Orton was lobster fisherman for many years. He also did shrimping, scalloping and fish dragging. He was a member of the Winter Harbor co-op. Orton enjoyed and was an avid hunter and fisherman. He was loved by his family, well respected in the community and was always willing to help others.
Orton is survived by his wife Jane; son David and wife Joyce of all of Hancock, daughter Vanessa of Ellsworth with partner Jerry Roberson; brother Ralph of Ellsworth; grandson Dustin Pinkham of Ellsworth and partner Samantha and many nieces and nephews. There will be a grave side service in the spring. In lieu of flowers, a donation in his name to the Alzheimer’s Association, Maine Chapter, 383 U.S. Route 1, Suite 2C, Scarborough, 04074 or the charity of your choice.
Arrangements by Jordan-Fernald, 113 Franklin Street, Ellsworth. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com