GOULDSBORO — The state Department of Environmental Protection will hold a three-hour public meeting strictly online late in October to hear comments and concerns about American Aquafarms’ permit applications to discharge two billion gallons of circulated water daily from the Norwegian-backed company’s two 15-pen sites northwest of Long Porcupine Island and northeast of Bald Rock Ledge in Frenchman Bay.
From 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, the DEP will hold the meeting for the public to weigh in, ask questions and raise issues regarding American Aquafarms’ two separate permits requiring the discharge of 23,775 gallons per second from the two Frenchman Bay sites. Pending the public response and issues raised, the applicant can further alter its application. The DEP will conduct its own study of American Aquafarms’ proposed wastewater disposal plan and has the option to hold a public hearing before issuing final approval or denial.
Late last spring, American Aquafarms held a three hour-plus online public meeting where American Aquafarms Vice President Eirik Jors, Portland-headquartered Ransom Consulting Engineers and Scientists’ Senior Project Manager Elizabeth Ransom and civil engineer and computer modeler Nathan Dill provided a detailed blueprint of the company’s wastewater disposal program.
In preparation for submitting its DEP applications, Ransom Consulting Engineers conducted extensive manual and remote sensor testing in Frenchman Bay, which is about 15 miles long and 7 miles wide, to gauge the potential environmental impacts of the proposed salmon farm’s use and release of seawater there to raise as much as 66 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually. Computer modeling and statistical techniques were used to analyze the hydrologic data and predict outcomes inshore and in distant reaches of the bay.
Jors said Norway’s Blue Ocean Technology designed the Frenchman Bay project’s wastewater treatment system from technology refined through finfish aquaculture over many years. He noted the system’s sediment trap captures 90 percent of the fish waste consisting of feces and residual nutrients. He explained the waste is pumped up to and passes through a central waste bin on a barge before being transported to the mainland. The material is recycled into biproducts such as biogas and fertilizer. He added that the salmon feed is made from fish meal and fish and plant oils and does not contain any hormones, antibiotics, palm oil, the chemical PCB or genetically modified foods (GMOs).
In addition, Jors said American Aquafarms’ proposed Eco-cages are equipped with a robotic device for systematically cleaning the pens. Cleaning agents as well as medications for treating the farmed salmon must be listed in the DEP permit. Should any illnesses arise, the Frenchman Bay farm and a licensed veterinarian would be required to jointly formulate a treatment plan and seek authorization from state authorities.
Speaking to the daily discharge of 2 billion gallons of seawater, Dill and Ransom staff studied the filtered water’s dispersal, dilution and drift over time in waters surrounding the proposed 60-acre fish farm and the entire bay. They estimated the 2 billion gallons discharged daily would be diluted a dozen times in Frenchman Bay. They also calculated the amount of nitrogen and other elements released as part of the discharge. In the case of nitrogen, they determined the amount was 2,300 pounds – far below the permitted volume under state law.
“Without degrading the water quality, you could add 13,000 pounds of nitrogen and that would bring you right to that threshold,” Dill said, noting the 2,300 pounds of nitrogen anticipated. “So, we are well below the 20 percent capacity threshold.”
Holly Faubel of Belfast took issue with Dill’s estimate, saying the amount does not include the nitrogen that the fish release naturally in liquid form through their gills.
On the issue of nitrogen, Elizabeth Ransom told Faubel she was “spot-on that nitrogen certainly is present in liquid form. What you are going to see is the nitrogen levels are quite low and discharged at a level that’s not going to do any harm.”
To attend the Zoom meeting, go to https://us06web.zoom.us/j/6928501126?pwd=blBEMDBlUTFKb3ZIbFN0NFVEaTl0dz09. The meeting i.d. is: 692 850 1126. The public may also call in, using the same meeting i.d. number and passcode 4gWhZz. Written comments may be sent to [email protected].