Gouldsboro Planning Board poised to begin review of aquaculture regulations

GOULDSBORO — Voters will decide whether to transfer up to $100,000 from unappropriated surplus to replenish the town’s depleted legal reserve account at a special town meeting being held at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13, at the Prospect Harbor Women’s Club next door to the town office.

Selectmen are recommending the move that will immediately enable the Planning Board and Rudman Winchell attorney Tim Pease to jointly forge a plan to review the town’s ordinances and propose possible amendments to address finfish aquaculture-related projects in Gouldsboro.

At the Planning Board meeting Tuesday night, Chairman Ray Jones said next week’s vote is crucial for his board and Pease to formulate a plan that identifies which municipal ordinances are relevant and how they should proceed to fulfill their mandate arising from Gouldsboro’s Nov. 15 special town meeting. At that meeting, voters overwhelmingly passed a six-month moratorium ordinance halting finfish aquaculture development. The 180-day pause is intended to give the Planning Board time to examine the town’s current regulations and possibly propose amendments in light of American Aquafarms’ envisioned salmon-processing and fish hatchery at the closed Maine Fair Trade facility in Prospect Harbor and other future finfish aquaculture-related development.

Since the Nov. 15 meeting, interim Town Manager Eve Wilkinson advised selectmen that the town had nearly spent $20,000 budgeted for the 2021-22 fiscal year’s legal expenses.

“If we can work with him [Tim Pease] on Zoom, I think we can accomplish what we need to do,” Jones told the public, noting Zoom sessions with Pease were less costly than in-person consultations. He said the Planning Board later this month could commence work with the Rudman Winchell attorney if sufficient funds become available as a result of Monday’s special town meeting.

Several Gouldsboro residents expressed concern that the Planning Board had not yet commenced its review. The finfish aquaculture development moratorium retroactively took effect Sept. 15. They questioned whether board members will have sufficient time to study Gouldsboro’s ordinances and research finfish development-related rules elsewhere in the few remaining months. They also were unclear how they could express their views about any findings as part of that process.

Jones said the town’s current site plan review ordinance, which has been updated four times since its 2002 adoption, likely would cover any seafood-processing operation proposed in town. He noted American Aquafarms intends to purchase East Coast Seafood Group’s Prospect Harbor complex soon but has not actually acquired the property. He also said he does not know the Norwegian-backed company’s detailed plans to process its farm-raised Atlantic salmon or produce juvenile fish to restock its two 15-pen sites planned in Frenchman Bay.

Gouldsboro resident and Springtide Seaweed LLC owner Sarah Redmond asked Jones whether the board has communicated directly with American Aquafarms in recent months.

“There have been no communications regarding details,” Jones responded, saying he had received periodic phone calls from American Aquafarms’ Director of Project Development Tom Brennan. “He does call me on occasion to see if anything is new.”

In light of American Aquafarms’ much publicized project, Prospect Harbor resident Jed West informed the board that retired architect and seasonal Lighthouse Point Road resident Robert Bushwaller has offered to carry out a risk analysis free of charge for the town of the proposed fish-farming operation’s potential impact on Gouldsboro.

Jones said such assistance was welcome. He also urged interested citizens to read and familiarize themselves with Gouldsboro’s site plan review and other ordinances that may be relevant. They are easily located on the town website under “ordinances” at gouldsborotown.com. “The end result for all of us board members is to protect the town,” he said.

In other business, board members agreed to request various developers to take “corrective action” to comply with the town’s fire protection ordinance. The move followed Fire Chief Tate McLean’s earlier report that he and the town’s former fire chief Alden Tracey had found a nonfunctional fire pond on an empty Sandpiper Shores lot and three defective dry hydrants on unsold lots located on Walters, Robbins Point and Merganser Bay Shores roads. Mclean said the developers are responsible for the fire ponds and hydrants’ upkeep until the land is sold and the responsibility shifts to the property owners.

In addition, Gouldsboro Infrastructure Superintendent Jim McLean proposed expanding the town’s shoreland ordinance to cover septic field repair or failure. McLean said he recently learned of two Prospect Harbor properties with dysfunctional septic systems. One lacks a septic field while the other has a defective tank. He says such violations put the town at risk of Prospect Harbor and other inlets being closed to shellfish harvesting. In Prospect Harbor, alone, he says the potential shellfish harvest’s value is estimated at $100,000.

Jones agreed the risk is great and he and other Planning Board members agreed to review a proposed amendment at a future meeting.

“This is proactive — not reactive,” he said. “We’ll possibly take action on it very soon.”

Letitia Baldwin

Arts Editor at The Ellsworth American
In addition to editing the Arts & Leisure section, Letitia edits special sections including Out & About, Overview, Health Quarterly, Your Maine Home, House & Garden and Get Ready for Winter. She comes from Chicago, Ill, but has deep family ties to the Cranberry Isles. [email protected]

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