May 1, 2022
It has been just over a week since we received the news that the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) had terminated American Aquafarms’ pending lease applications for two 60-acre sites in Frenchman Bay. The company filed the applications last August, but they had never been accepted as complete because of the company’s repeated failure to provide a qualified source of fish eggs for the proposed project.
The DMR action was followed a day later by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) decision to return the company’s wastewater discharge applications, which had been accepted and were under active consideration, because American Aquafarms did not have either approved lease sites or pending applications for them.
So, what does all this mean? Here are answers to some questions you may have.
Is the project dead?
For now, yes. Forever? Not so sure.
With no pending applications to state regulators, the project for now is dead and if American Aquafarms wants to try again, they will have to submit new applications, go to the back of the line, and start the process all over, something that could take “two or three years,” a DMR spokesperson told the Portland Press Herald.
As for American Aquafarms’ intentions, company spokesman Tom Brennan told the Bangor Daily News that “I expect the company owners are taking a pause to understand what this all means for the future,” while company vice president Eirik Jors told The Ellsworth American from Norway that the company was trying to decide how to move forward, adding that “We remain committed to the process and to further the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly aquaculture in Maine.”
So, the next move is up to American Aquafarms, and it looks like they are sticking around. After months of saying the purchase of the former Stinson Canning facility was “imminent,” news reports indicate that American Aquafarms did, in fact, complete the purchase last Friday..
What happens to all the work that FBU has done to show the impacts on the bay?
Ironically, just a day before the DMR decision to terminate the lease applications, Dr. Chris Kincaid, a physical oceanographer, and Jason Krumholz, a marine biologist, both from the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, presented modeling on behalf of FBU to staff at the Maine DEP. Also present were representatives of Ransom Consulting, who developed American Aquafarms discharge applications and modeling, and independent experts from the University of Maine.
It was clear from the presentation that the bay does not flush quickly, that discharged waste would be retained and concentrated because of recirculating current gyres, that the proposed nutrient load is huge, and that within as little as 60 days, the regulatory thresholds for nitrogen concentrations are likely to be dramatically exceeded, all with no evidence of establishing equilibrium.
It also was clear that the Kincaid modeling was seen as credible and completely undermined Ransom Consulting’s contention that all effluent would simply flush from the bay without adverse impact.
FBU will submit conclusions from its scientific and legal work to the DEP so that they are on record should these applications be re-submitted at some point.
FBU also has commissioned studies on other aspects of the bay and that work will be completed over the next few months, to be used if American Aquafarms’ floating fish factory re-surfaces or a similarly harmful project is proposed in the future.
In addition to FBU’s ongoing work, the town of Gouldsboro continues to work on a comprehensive ordinance that will limit and govern industrial-scale aquaculture projects within the boundaries of the town.
The project was terminated on technicalities, but could FBU have prevailed on the merits?
We believe that we were building a strong, credible case against the project, both in terms of getting the wastewater discharge applications denied by the DEP through our modeling, and by addressing the criteria established by DMR to grant or deny leases, such as navigation, impacts on fishing and other aquaculture use, impacts on surrounding flora and fauna, and the impacts of light and noise.
Together with our many partners in this effort, we were building a strong case for denying the proposed leases, and we also believe that the impacts on Acadia National Park would have carried significant weight with federal authorities.
While we will never know for sure what might have happened if the applications had continued through the process, we remain confident that we and our partners were on track to defeat the project.
Moreover, we know that the decisions made last week were not made in a vacuum. Thanks to you, FBU helped to build an amazing coalition of people from all walks of life, from all around the bay and beyond, committed to defeating this ill-conceived project. We built a compelling narrative against the project, and the strength and breadth of our opposition was not lost on the media, politicians and the regulators who were charged with determining the fate of this project.
What is next for FBU?
We have always stated that our mission was to defeat this project and then to make sure that nothing like it was ever again proposed for Frenchman Bay or anywhere else along the Maine coast.
As noted above, we still have some work to do to wrap things up regarding American Aquafarms (and to be ready for its potential return), but we will now be turning our attention and resources to promoting the changes that are needed to make sure that a project like this will never be allowed anywhere in Maine.
We’re working to define just what those efforts will look like going forward, but we are committed to continuing to work with you and our many partners to put in place lasting protections against projects like American Aquafarms. If the feedback we have received so far is any indication, that is just what you want us to do.
We will continue to update our website at frenchmanbayunited.org and to communicate with you through updates like this. For now, thank you for helping us build this unprecedented coalition to protect this very special part of Maine and for continuing to support the work that remains unfinished.
As The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander put it in editorials this week: “The lasting impact of the American Aquafarms proposal may well be the opposition it mobilized.”