BUCKSPORT — Whole Oceans has taken another step forward in its efforts to build a state-of-the-art recirculating aquaculture system to grow Atlantic salmon on the site of the former Verso mill.
On Monday, the company announced that it had received needed submerged lands leases that will allow it to use its property along the Penobscot River. The leases extend, according to the company, until 2034.
In Maine, the state owns all the “submerged land” below the low-water mark in tidal rivers as far upstream as the tide runs, as well as the land seaward of the low tide mark, below the low water mark of ponds 10 acres or larger and the beds of the rivers that form part of the international boundary with Canada.
With certain exceptions, any private use of those submerged lands requires a lease from the Bureau of Parks and Lands of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The application process took some three to four months, according to Whole Oceans.
Although the leases are necessary first steps for construction of the Whole Oceans project, they do not authorize any new activities.
In a statement on Monday, the company said the leases “grant rights to Whole Oceans to maintain, repair and use existing intake and outfall structures on the property that are below the mean low water line.” The leases do not allow any excavation or any new construction in the river until Whole Oceans obtains the required permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Whole Oceans is currently awaiting Site Location of Development Act (SLODA) approval from the state DEP. The SLODA process gives the state a means to control the location of developments which substantially affect the local environment and ensure that such developments will have a minimal impact on the natural environment within the site and its surroundings.
According to Whole Oceans, its SLODA application is complete and is currently under review by various state agencies.
“Assuming these agency reviews go as expected, we can anticipate that we may have a permit issued by the end of November,” the company said in the statement announcing the submerged lands leases. If that happens, Whole Oceans hopes to break ground on its project in the spring of 2020.
“We are excited to continue to make progress towards breaking ground on the project,” Jacob Bartlett, CEO of Whole Oceans, said in a statement. “The company is currently hiring people with decades of industry experience for leadership positions such as our new hatchery manager, Orfa Cabrera, as well as planning for construction.”