Aquaculture business eyed for Mitchell Field in Harpswell

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HARPSWELL — A Brunswick-based environmental consulting firm has proposed building an educational and commercial aquaculture center at Mitchell Field.

The Harpswell Oceanic Center would “bring 21st century working waterfront and seafood production to Mitchell Field,” according to Chris Heinig, president of MER Assessment Corp. and a partner in the project.

The center would practice integrated multi-tropic aquaculture, a process by which the by-products of one species are fed to another, creating little or no waste. The Harpswell facility would include fish, worms, and algae. Heinig wouldn’t say what species of fish, only that it would be a native species.

The fish would be raised for human consumption, and their waste would feed  worms, which would be harvested for bait. Algae would utilize the fish waste, as well as carbon dioxide they exhale. The algae has multiple uses, including bio-fuels, Heinig said.

All three species would be contained in a land-based module, not an off-shore pen like more traditional aquaculture. The proposed facility would also include a research and visitor’s center.

Heinig, who lives in Harpswell, said this style of aquaculture doesn’t exist anywhere else in Maine.

“A lot of people are doing it on a research basis,” he said, but there are “no attempts to do it commercially yet.”

Proximity to many universities and research institutions, as well as to Portland, is one of the reasons Heinig said he is interested in Mitchell Field. He said he has considered other sites further up the coast, but he didn’t think they were as good as Harpswell.

“It’s an ideal location,” he said.

Heinig said a decision at the March 12 Town Meeting to allow the Board of Selectmen to sign multi-year leases for Mitchell Field without Town Meeting approval prompted his decision to approach the board last week.

That warrant item was among the most debated at Town Meeting. Ultimately it passed 122-90.

With the selectman as decision-makers, “we know what the ground rules are, it makes it a lot easier,” Heinig said.

He and his partners, who he declined to disclose, were scheduled to meet privately with selectmen on Wednesday for an initial discussion of the project.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane called the proposal “very preliminary.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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