Harpswell salmon farm still in play as pier demolition looms

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HARPSWELL — Plans for the demolition of the pier at Mitchell Field have not stymied a company’s interest in developing an indoor salmon farm on the site.

The project engineer is recommending the town use portions of the field located near the proposed development to stage the construction process, which would likely begin sometime in the late fall and last at least a year.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said any progress would not necessarily preclude the aquaculture company Whole Oceans from developing the site. Whole Oceans told the town last November it was interested in the property.

“Whole Oceans continues to have an interest in Mitchell Field,” Eiane said Wednesday. “The company is doing its due diligence in terms of evaluating the site, (but) at this point there is no proposal to share.”

Selectmen are scheduled to meet in executive session on Thursday, April 13, to discuss economic and business development at Mitchell Field with their consultant, Steve Levesque of the Mid Coast Regional Redevelopment Authority.

Eiane said the executive session was necessary to keep negotiations – such as details of a potential lease agreement – private, and to avoid disadvantaging the town during during negotiations.

“If we start talking about specific terms of any lease agreement (in public),” she explained, “that could sort of tip our hand of what we would lease the site for. … Until we have some final lease negotiation to share, I don’t know how much public discussion (of Whole Oceans) there would be.”

She added that conversations with Whole Oceans are in the early stages, and would not prevent the town from entertaining proposals from other interested companies.

Rob Piasio, the entrepreneur and Yarmouth native behind the salmon-farming proposal, has not publicly discussed his interest in the site since last October, and did not respond to phone calls or emails this week.

But Eiane confirmed that the company is still interested. No other companies have formally expressed interest in the site, she said.

Piasio is president of New Jersey-based Emergent Holdings; the Maine-based subsidiary Whole Oceans was created early this year, according to filings at the Maine secretary of state’s office.

In accordance with a policy that requires the town to make economic proposals on public property available to the public, Piasio released an official statement of interest in the Mitchell Field business zone late last October.

Mitchell Field has two zones designed for marine business – on the condition they are Maine-based companies – and Whole Oceans would occupy both.

However, Piasio pitched rezoning the area to relinquish 550 feet of coastal frontage, noting it is not necessary to the indoor fish farm, and would free up more public beach access.

Meanwhile, the town has yet to finalize its plans to demolition the deteriorating pier. The town voted to spend up to $5 million to remove the structure at March Town Meeting.

A tentative time-line is posted on the town’s website that anticipates construction will begin in the last quarter of this year.

“At this point, the town is looking to move forward with the demolition project and that work needs to be formally permitted,” project engineer Barney Baker said Monday.

Because Baker is recommending a demolition process that creates a “lay down” area on-site – which involves creating a road inland from the waterfront – to deposit and sort materials; therefore, “the upland impact still needs to be reviewed and assessed.”

“Permanent changes to landscape would likely qualify for Planning Board review,” he said.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

An aerial view of Harpswell’s Mitchell Field, showing the old Navy pier. The area zoned for marine buisness is on the left.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.