GOULDSBORO — The Planning Board has commenced its review of the town’s regulations, initially focusing on the land use ordinance, in the wake of the recent voter-approved moratorium on finfish aquaculture development. The ban took retroactive effect Sept. 15 and is due to expire in March.
The move follows the board’s in-person session last week with Rudman Winchell attorney Tim Pease, who advised members to focus their attention on local municipal regulations rather than explore whether the town has authority in state waters. In state waters, the Maine Departments of Marine Resources and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under law have clear, specific jurisdiction regarding fin-fish aquaculture ventures of more than 10 acres.
At the Dec. 20 meeting, Pease said he would look into whether Gouldsboro has any authority beyond its boundaries on land.
“It’s a bit of a question how far a town can go in regulating on the water,” he told the board.
In preparation for the session, Pease had reviewed Gouldsboro’s land use, shoreland, site plan, solid waste and harbor ordinances and comprehensive plan. The attorney concluded that the ordinances lack sufficient detail and depth to exercise authority over a 10-acre-plus finfish operation’s noise level, lighting, trucks’ potential wear on local roads and other issues. He recommended the board look to Maine’s planning, land use and shoreland zoning laws to strengthen those ordinances.
In addition, the lawyer advised the board to look at other Maine communities that have had ocean-based finfish farms operate seafood-processing and fish hatcheries on land within their boundaries.
“I think you have the bones that you need, but I suggest you beef up those sections,” Pease told the board.
In the site plan ordinance, the lawyer noted applicants must show they have the financial and technical capacity to fulfill their projects. No specific requirements, however, are spelled out such as citing examples of prior operations and their track record and success.
Planning Board member Jay Higgins asked Pease whether performance bonds could be attached to a municipal permit application to protect the town and guarantee that the applicant fulfills their obligations. And, would those bonds carry over if a finfish farm, say, was acquired and run by a new owner?
“In general, conditions go with whomever owns that operation,” Pease replied.
In his view, Prospect Harbor resident Dick Fisher said scale is the greatest issue. He says American Aquafarms’ proposed venture to raise 66 million Atlantic salmon annually and process that volume of fish in town is off the scales as far as the town’s past and present fisheries-related operations are concerned. He said just the heavy-duty transport of that volume of seafood — and associated diesel smoke — would pollute the air and exact excessive wear and tear on local roads.
“I don’t know to what extent we can come up with regulations that address that concern. We have to decide what we want our town and waterfront to become,” Fisher said. “We have to be really careful about projects and how big they become.”
Any proposed ordinance changes would require public hearings and ultimately would be approved or rejected by voters at annual Town Meeting.
Before the moratorium expires March 16, the board could seek to extend the freeze on the issuance of municipal permits for 10 acre-plus finfish farms. The town, however, would have to show that “reasonable progress” had been made to address issues posed by such enterprises in its ordinances.
Planning Board members agreed to study first the land use ordinance, each doing research on their own, and report back at the board’s next meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4, at the Prospect Harbor Women’s Club Building. The session also will be accessible via Zoom.