Nordic Aquafarms is close to bringing one of the first major land-based salmon farms in the United States online, but has not yet resolved an ongoing lawsuit that states the company does not have title rights to land it needs to access the ocean.
While Maine's permitting agencies have ruled Nordic has secured right, title and interest to inter-tidal land to pipe water from its farm site into the Penobscot Bay, the company is closely watching a lawsuit that says otherwise, Nordic Aquafarms Executive Vice President Commercial Marianne Naess told IntraFish.
"Nordic will consider when to move forward with construction and might decide to wait until we are satisfied with the status of the intertidal ownership," Ness told IntraFish. She noted the lawsuit is closely intertwined with several permits the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is still reviewing for approval, but that NAF still expects to receive its final permits from the state later this summer.
The opponents, landowners Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, filed the lawsuit last year against Nordic based on language from the 1946 deed of the land's former owner Harriet Hartley. It states no businesses for profit are to be conducted on the land unless agreed to by Hartley, her heirs or designated individuals.
While Nordic has already obtained approval from Hartley's heirs, the landowner couple has created a conservation easement for the disputed inter-tidal land, naming it the Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area. That designation is helping to keep the lawsuit in play, according to the Midcoast Maine Free Press.
Prior to filing lawsuits against Nordic, Mabee and Grace wanted to sell their property to Nordic for $1 million (€890,000).
NAF said the company was in dialogue with Mabee and Grace about the purchase, but that the couple "initially claimed that they had given first right of refusal to someone else."
Ness said after NAF had secured intertidal access through another property owned by Richard and Janet Eckrote, the Mabees approached the company about wanting to sell.
On June 4, a Maine Superior Court judge dismissed Nordic's motion to throw out the case because the defendants were unable to join neighboring landowners, including the Eckrotes, in their lawsuit.
The judge granted the landowners 14 days from the June 4 ruling to petition neighbors, citing the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for the extension.
"It's unpredictable," Naess said of when the case could ultimately be resolved. The judge in Maine ordered a status phone conference to occur before June 25 that will try to determine how to move the complicated title issue forward.
Nordic Aquafarms CEO Bernt-Olav Rottingsnes told IntraFish recently the company is ready to start early construction in Maine.
"All applications have been submitted, all hearings have been completed and it is now up to the Maine authorities to make their statement -- but everything indicates that it will be in our favor," he said.
But he also said the company has "not been in the market to raise money for that project yet because we first want to get the permits."
The facility will be built in two equal phases to produce 10,000 to 12,000 metric tons per phase, costing about $250 million (€221 million) each -- bringing the total up to $500 million (€442 million), a chunk financed with loans.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated Nordic Aquafarms would not be able to bring one of the first major land-based salmon farms in the United States online until it resolves an ongoing lawsuit that is preventing it from having ocean access.
A previous version of this story also cited the Maine court granting the landowner opponents 21 days from June 4 to petition neighbors.