Letter to the EPA

Timothy Timmermann, Director

 <https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/epa-region-1-new-england> Environmental
Protection Agency, Region 1
5 Post Office Square – Suite 100
Boston, MA 02109-3912

March 27, 2021

 Dear Mr. Timmermann:

I’m writing at the recommendation of Jay Clement, Team Leader at the Maine
Office of the Army Corps of Engineers to express my concern for two pending,
industrial-scale, 60-acre aquaculture lease applications that are unfolding
in Frenchman Bay, Maine. This letter is similar to an earlier appeal I
recently addressed to Mr. Clement, but it adds several new concerns. The
applicant, American Aquaculture has filed for two lease applications with
the Maine Department of Marine Resources, but neither are public yet. The
firm is also on record to say they’ll be filing Discharge Permit
Applications for both sites with the Maine Department of Environmental
Protection, as well as for one or more ‘new source’ emissions licenses
needed to make long-term operation of one or more large scale diesel
generators compliant with EPA air pollution regulations.

I hope that the EPA will review and deny approval to all aspects of this
project, and, at the very least, will demand that it undergo comprehensive
environmental research such as an Environmental Impact Statement or
Environmental Assessment.

My concerns about the project deal primarily with air and water quality
issues and their related impacts. Let me address water quality first.
American Aquaculture plans to use unproven technology they claim to be
“eco-friendly” largely because it supposedly removes 90% of waste products,
particularly the solid waste. A small, first-time implementation of this
technology is currently being evaluated in British Columbia, but the track
record that installation provides over a short time period is not
commensurate with the risk posed by the scale of the Frenchman Bay project
when the adverse environmental and economic  impacts are considered should
any of a myriad of largely untested components or systems fail. Those
failures could be due individually to unanticipated equipment malfunctions,
safety margin shortcomings, to human error, or to many forms of accident,
weather conditions, or lapses in oversight. Importantly, failure could also
come from unanticipated, amplifying interactions between one or more of
these preceding scenarios: eg a small failure –  a tear to the outer
containment, a pump failure, or disease – occurring at a bad weather moment,
compounded by bad judgement on-site due to new or unpracticed procedures
that together compound to cause a much larger incident. Said another way,
since this proposal is simply ‘too big to fail,’ it should not be permitted.
From a failure analysis standpoint, risk is not mitigated simply because the
company claims to capture 90% of the waste or because the firm claims very
high burst strengths for the containment material. Why not? Because, as we
all know, stuff happens. The proposed, untested systems can easily fail in
unpredictable ways, very quickly (eg: in a collision), and because of the
scale, produce immediate and irrevocable environmental harm and long-lasting
economic damage to many parties.

Conversely, and assuming that the technology is reliable and that
appropriate safety margins are in place (and both are unproven and in
question, especially at the proposed scale), the remaining waste discharge –
the 10% of waste that’s not captured – will be largely liquid. That liquid
is sure to contain very high concentrations of dissolved nitrogen, and
somewhat lower, but objectionable concentrations of phosphorous and other

Consider that the Gulf of Maine is among the fastest warming bodies of
water on earth. With warming comes increased algal blooms and red tide.
Adding high nutrient loads to the water could only exacerbate the already
recognized increased algal bloom frequencies, and with them, cause adverse
effects to much of the ecosystem. Even if direct causal effects for the
likelihood of increased algal blooms cannot be demonstrated, by the same
token, they cannot be disproved either. Therefore, the  risks of even
potentially causing those impacts should not be accepted within the existing
regulatory framework of seeking to do no harm and maintaining the Public

It’s worth underlining that Maine’s duty to uphold and manage the bay’s
waters and submerged lands in perpetuity is for the Public Trust, and
specifically not for the financial interests of the privately held, foreign
owned applicant, their investors, or some of their new employees. In this
Public Trust framework, it’s unclear how Maine’s DMR and DEP could consider
issuing permits in good faith. This reinforces the need to have the EPA
perform an EA or EIS independently.

The proposal plans to pump large volumes of cold water from deep below the
pens, presumably to clean, oxygenate, and control the water temperature in
the pens. Additionally, the pens will be cleaned by robotic power washers.
That pumped effluent, while cleaning the pens themselves, necessarily
pollutes the bay with water that’s high in nitrogen, phosphorous and
dissolved contaminants, as well as with harmful residue from the robotic pen
cleaners. The altered temperature profile of that large volume of discharged
water is likely to significantly alter the ecology in unknown and
unpredictable ways too.

All that effluent will be discharged from the installation. And yet,
without detailed models of the coastal current flows, supplemented by the
ground truth of data collected from a bay-wide network of ADCP current
profilers and CTD instrumentation deployed over several seasons to map
current flows and basic chemistry, there will be no characterization of this
effluent plume or where it will be transported. In simple terms, will this
effluent concentrate in a gyre, or will it flush, or will it deposit on
sensitive regions of the bay environment? Nobody knows. Modelling, data
collection from instrumentation, and analysis will be required to evaluate
the risks.

Further, once there’s an understanding of where effluent is transported,
there’s no data on how that material might impact either local fisheries,
including the bay’s active lobster, shellfish and kelp fisheries, or the
non-commercial marine environment and the creatures and habitats it
supports. At present, there is no data to make informed decisions about the
proposal’s environmental impact. Acquiring that data and the peer-reviewed
conclusions from it should be a prerequisite to consideration of issuance of
any permit.

Next, the proposal presents other threats to water quality related to
contamination associated with loading, storage, barge transport, and
unloading of enormous volumes of sludge, fish pellets, and diesel fuel that
all deserve close scrutiny in an EA or EIS. Clearly, the inevitable
introduction of contaminants including veterinary pharmaceuticals, foreign
organisms, or other materials from foreign fish pellets, sludge, and fuel
deserve study.

In addition, net-pen fish farms are frequently subject to large
disease-born die offs. How will potentially huge volumes of diseased fish,
(perhaps 2.2M fish, the size of a single pen or greater) be handled without
impact? That, too, deserves study and assurances for on-going monitoring and
compliance to currently non-existing regulatory protocols. And finally, the
proposed pens will operate at a stocking density that (depending on how it’s
calculated) is 3-8 times the maximum stocking density Norwegian regulations
allow to assure water quality. Currently Maine has no such regulations, but
why would we permit a facility using unproven technology operating so far
beyond what Norway, the world salmon farming leader, allows to insure
environmentally sound water quality? The applicant’s position that their
unproven technology is ‘eco-friendly’ enough to allow that much higher
stocking density, and at this unprecedented scale is simply not credible.

Finally, with respect to water quality, it’s of concern that there even
prior to these applications, there are currently approximately 30 existing
or pending aquaculture leases in Frenchman Bay. There is little data to
evaluate the cumulative impact on or between these installations and the
proposed new ones. Adding two industrial-scale leases simply exacerbates the
unknowns associated with the cumulative effects.

Now, let me also address the impact on air quality, traffic, and road wear
in the region. The proposal is to produce 66 million pounds of fish
annually. It’s not currently clear whether this 66M pounds is un-gutted, or
cleaned and gutted fish, but, for the moment, let’s assume it is
market-ready fish, ready to ship. It’s also not clear how that fish and
other related material will be transported but consider the following: The
load capacity of a standard 53’ semi-trailer is 43,000 pounds. With a cab,
these rigs are 74’ long. To haul 66M pounds of fish, the proposed annual
production, you’d need 1534 trucks stretching 21 miles. If you need to haul
this 66M pounds of fish over an entire year, and you haul five days a week,
it would take six trucks every day for a year.

This same volume of fish must be moved from the pen to shore in the same
period. According to the company, that transport will happen in a large
300-foot-long processing ship burning high sulfur fuel oils making
hour-and-a-half trips back and forth daily between the pens and the planned
processing facility in Prospect Harbor. This adversely impacts air and water
quality too.

Additionally, there will be similarly large transport logistics for
incoming fish pellets. Although specifics about them have not been made
public yet, sources suggest that one to three pounds of fish pellets are
required to produce one pound of fish. Therefore, even at the lower
one-pound of pellet level, it would be reasonable to anticipate another
21-mile line of trucks transporting food to the shoreline, to say nothing of
how that feed will be transported over the water to the pens.

There also will be similar, but as yet unspecified, very large transport
demands to haul the solid waste product from pens to shore where it will be
dried and then trucked out supposedly for use in fertilizer or other
products. This operation could have significant odor impacts, both in
transport over the water and onshore. The volumes are not disclosed yet, but
they will be significant once again impacting air quality and road wear.

And of course, the total number of trucks I’ve cited is likely to increase,
perhaps double, because to leave fully loaded, at least some trucks, perhaps
all of them will almost certainly need to arrive empty.

Another air quality concern relates to the continuous power demand for high
volume pumps, lighting, and crew quarters that will be supplied by diesel
generators for which the aforementioned ‘new source’ licenses will be
required. After all, these licenses are nothing more than licenses to

All of these sources will contribute to local air pollution in ways that
conflict with Maine’s newly adopted “Climate Action Strategies”. Further, it
should be noted that ocean farmed fish is nearly twice as greenhouse gas
intensive as wild capture fishing while contributing the highest CO2
emissions of the entire seafood sector.

Quite a carbon impact for an operation touted as “eco-friendly”.

These air quality concerns, along with the associated truck and ship
traffic and the corresponding congestion and noise impact on the region,
deserve study in an EA or EIS too. And when the water and air quality
impacts are reviewed, it will be important to understand the scale of the
project as it is currently proposed, as well as how it may be expanded in
the future. Expansion could take at least two forms. One expansion route
would be to apply for additional leases. American Aquafarms is on record
saying it will not seek expansion of the current lease footprint, and, if
so, that mode of expansion should be specifically and permanently excluded.

However, the current lease application is for two 60-acre areas. In the
current plan, each of those lease areas includes a 6.6 acre area of pens.
Therefore, a second form of expansion could be to simply increase the pen
areas within the current lease, an expansion that could conceivably increase
production and the environmental impacts by nearly 10X without changing the
lease area. Either potential expansion should be evaluated by the EA or EIS
and possibly limited or excluded depending on the findings.

In closing, let me say that I do not come to these concerns lightly. My
extended family and I have owned properties in Sorrento for over 100 years.
My parents own the north end of Stave Island, located just over a mile from
one of the two proposed lease sites. The application proposes use of
untested technology at unprecedented, industrial scale with the potential to
quickly degrade both water and air quality, and therefore to negatively
impact the entire ecosystem and the local existing shellfish, lobster and
aquaculture fisheries. That’s a risk we cannot afford to take.

There are also concerns due to the adverse effects from the navigation
hazards, visual, noise, ship traffic, and light pollution impacts on the
entire bay area including Acadia Park. Additionally, there are serious
concerns that the conservation values of the surrounding forever-wild land
areas will be jeopardized; these include the Park, the Porcupine Islands,
Jordan, Stave, Preble, Dram and Bean islands which have all been conserved
in perpetuity. It is worth noting that the lease area is larger than each of
the smallest seven individually and larger than the combined area of the
bay’s smallest five conserved islands.

Finally, there is a clear danger that the public trust that the State of
Maine is pledged to uphold in perpetuity for the submerged land in the bay,
along with the waters of the bay itself, will be sacrificed in the name of a
highly speculative development, led by a man of questionable character, and
promising low-skilled,  jobs that, if past history is to be our guide, may
prove difficult to fill. After all, the Department of Labor ranks these jobs
as among the most dangerous.

These adverse impacts apply not only to the environment itself but to the
region’s economy, and to people of all affiliations who use and appreciate
the existing, pristine, near-wild landscape, much of it permanently
protected – fishermen, property owners, residents, summer people, visitors,
recreational interests, tourism, to name a few – who all stand to be
collectively harmed both now, and long into the future. This proposal is
likely do irrevocable harm to the landscape, the ocean resources it
supports, and to all these users long, if not perpetually, into the future.

I believe all of the many environmental concerns surrounding this project
should be considered adverse effects that warrant protection under the
National Environmental Policy Act and deserve a moratorium on the grant of
any permits until completion of either an Environmental Assessment or an
Environmental Impact Study by the Environmental Protection Agency.

I look forward to being kept apprised of your review of this request. Thank
you for your consideration of these matters.


Henry Sharpe

Cc:         Jay Clement, Team Leader for the Maine Army Corps of Engineers