GOULDSBORO — Over 200 voters raised their arms, creating a sea of blue cards, Monday night in a hand vote signaling overwhelming support for a moratorium ordinance that immediately halts for six months the review and issuance of municipal permits for American Aquafarms or other proposed 10-acre-plus finfish aquaculture ventures seeking to base their operations in town.
The special town meeting, moderated by Rudman Winchell attorney Tim Pease, drew around 250 voters, only four of whom raised their hands in opposition to the ordinance. The moratorium is intended to give the Gouldsboro Planning Board time to review and possibly propose amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan as well as its land use, site plan, subdivision and shoreland zoning ordinances that currently do not address finfish aquaculture development. Any proposed changes would be subject to public hearings before being considered by voters at the annual town meeting.
No debate was necessary, nor did the registered voters’ blue cards require counting given the clear majority of hands that shot up in stark contrast to the handful of voters who opposed the 180-day freeze on finfish aquaculture development. The moratorium ordinance’s passage drew loud applause.
John M. Glowa Sr. of South China, who identified himself as previously having worked in enforcement for the Maine Department of Marine Resources for 30 years, was granted permission by voters to speak as a nonresident. In September, Glowa became the first declared Democratic candidate for governor in the 2022 election.
Glowa opposes American Aquafarms’ plan to locate two 15-pen sites near Bald Rock Ledge and off Long Porcupine Island in Frenchman Bay.
“I would like folks to know that I would like to help them through this regulatory process in any way I can,” Glowa told the crowd gathered in the Gouldsboro Community Rec Center on the Pond Road.
Robert Nichols, a Washington, D.C., attorney and seasonal Winter Harbor resident, played a key role in assisting the Gouldsboro Select Board to secure legal counsel and explore its options to grapple with the scale and complexity of American Aquafarms’ plan to convert East Coast Seafood Group’s dormant Maine Fair Trade complex in Prospect Harbor into an industrial operation. Close to acquiring the property, the Norwegian-backed company would process 66 million pounds of Atlantic salmon per year and raise its own juvenile fish to replenish its stocks at a hatchery on site.
“I think the unanimous vote tonight should send a clear message that Gouldsboro does not want to be a testing ground for unproven technologies and for foreign investors to get rich from the natural resources that belong to all residents,” Nichols said following the ordinance’s passage.
Monday’s vote does not affect the regulatory status of American Aquafarms’ completed wastewater discharge permit application to release a combined 4.1 billion gallons of diluted wastewater daily from the pen sites.
The DEP is currently reviewing the application and has not yet announced whether a public hearing will be held on the project.
In addition, Monday’s vote does not affect American Aquafarms’ two Maine Department of Marine Resources lease applications to raise 60 million pounds of Atlantic salmon at the two 60-acre ocean sites in Frenchman Bay. To date, the DMR has yet to find those applications to be complete and the state agency’s own site visits are not expected until next year.
The DEP, DMR and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have jurisdiction over proposed aquaculture projects in state waters.
Before its expiration in 180 days, the Gouldsboro Planning Board could seek to extend the moratorium but would have to demonstrate that “reasonable progress” had been made to address issues posed by 10-acre-plus finfish aquaculture ventures in its ordinances.
As grounds for its adoption, the aquaculture moratorium ordinance references, but does not name, American Aquafarms and its plan to convert the Prospect Harbor facility into a state-of-the-art seafood processing complex and fish hatchery. The ordinance notes the project’s scale far exceeds the size and scope of current aquaculture ventures operating from its waterfront. The document also cites the fact that the town’s comprehensive plan has not been updated since 2005, and other existing ordinances do not address such development.
“Without appropriate regulation, such facilities and development could pose a threat to the quality of life and the health and safety of town residents…,” the seven-part draft ordinance cautions. “Such facilities and development could cause a shortage and overburdening of public facilities such as water, roads and public safety.”
Besides the moratorium ordinance, voters approved another article permitting any shellfish-related donations to be deposited in the town’s shellfish reserve account.
Before the meeting ended, Prospect Harbor resident Becky O’Keefe thanked three local bakers, Ramona Dyer, Cindy Godwin and Donna Harmon of Corea Catering, for supplying freshly made doughnuts to accompany the hot cider served up by Friends of Schoodic Peninsula members.