GOULDSBORO — American Aquafarms earlier this week notified the town that it is postponing the Sept. 7 public meeting, where the company’s founder Mikael Roenes, Vice-President Eirik Jors and Chief Technology Officer Erling Kristiansen were to have further informed townspeople and answered questions about their $250 million project to raise Atlantic salmon in Frenchman Bay. They canceled next week’s meeting because of potential health risks given Maine’s escalating COVID-19 cases that hit the highest daily total of 624 on Sept. 2 since late January.
At the Select Board’s Thursday night meeting, Interim Gouldsboro Town Manager Eve Wilkinson said American Aquafarms’ Project Manager Tom Brennan stressed in his email that the company execs do intend to hold an in-person meeting, but didn’t say when. Wilkinson also told several dozen citizens in attendance in-person and via Zoom that Brennan had responded in writing to a multitude of questions raised about the proposed aquafarm venture by the public at meeting earlier this summer. She said Deputy Clerk Brianna Mitchell reviewed the meeting’s video/audio files and identified 28 questions that were subsequently answered in Brennan’s written response distributed at the Sept. 2 meeting.
In related business, Board Chairman Dana Rice informed the public that Select Board members have contracted the Bangor law firm, Rudman Winchell, to inventory Gouldsboro’s land use, shorefront, subdivision, solid waste and other ordinances and what current rules may or may not apply to American Aquafarms’ 120-acre salmon farm in Frenchman Bay and proposed fish-processing/hatchery facility in Prospect Harbor. Rice said Rudman Winchell is giving the town a discount for its legal services. He said the law firm is expected to report back and may suggest drafting new regulations.
The Select Board’s move to hire Rudman Winchell came after consultations with Winter Harbor summer resident and Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Nichols. Nichols, whose home overlooks Frenchman Bay, has closely followed American Aquafarms’ proposal to locate two 15-net pen sites northeast of Long Porcupine Island and north of Bald Rock. The lawyer, whose firm Nichols Liu specializes in government contracts and who previously served as a Judge Advocate General at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, recently stepped forward to offer his expertise as a neighboring Schoodic Peninsula resident.
“Robert, thank you for stepping up in the process,” Rice said. He also praised Wilkinson for serving yet again as interim town manager. He said, “If it hadn’t been for Eve Wilkinson these last 30 to 40 years, Gouldsboro would have been an unorganized territory.”
In American Aquafarms’ six-page response to citizens’ questions, Brennan said the company expects to hire 75 to 90 employees to run its two ocean sites featuring Ecomerden AS’s Eco-cage floating pen system. The year-round jobs will vary widely from pen operators and technicians to various support vessels’ crews and wastewater treatment plant operators. To reach the Frenchman Bay sites, Brennan said the company would work with local fishermen to establish seasonal routes and minimize entanglements and fishing gear damage. At each site, only 10 acres will be occupied by the pens and mooring systems equipped with required navigational lighting. Work lights will be shielded and not used continuously. No activity is foreseen after daylight hours.
At the Prospect Harbor facility, they anticipate more than 100 jobs including administrators, processing-line leaders, biologists, cleaners, maintenance workers and daycare/health center staff. Eight-hour shifts are planned. Some training and certification will be required and related training programs will be initiated with Maine educational institutions. The processing plant/fish hatchery’s water supply will be sourced from existing wells on site.
Brennan noted Maine is four to six hours from one-third of the U.S. population, which is the world’s top consumer of farmed salmon. Consumption has at least tripled in 40 years. At present, the United States imports more than 90 percent of its seafood largely by air freight from China, Vietnam, Norway and other countries. American Aquafarms’ over-land transport of up to 30,000 metric tons of salmon to market cuts “the carbon footprint of 100,000 metric tons per year (31,000 vehicles).”
In addition, Brennan noted American Aquafarms would help preserve Gouldsboro’s working waterfront and marine-driven economy for future generations. He said the operation provides an alternative income source should Maine’s lobster landings drop 62 percent as predicted in a 2018 University of Maine study. He said the company also is exploring how salmon cuts and biproducts could be used as lobster bait by local fishermen.