PIONEER, Ohio (WANE) – Protestors showed up to a town hall meeting Wednesday night in Pioneer, Ohio, voicing concerns about a salmon farm under construction.

About a dozen protestors were talking amongst themselves about Pioneer Ohio’s water system, and beyond.

“Well, it’s your drinking water and so I’m kind of concerned about the fact that it’s going to be going down the river to you guys in Fort Wayne”

Susan Catterall

The salmon farm is being planned by AquaBounty.

A board of AquaBounty officials, including its CEO, Sylvia Wulf, answered more than 70 submitted comments and questions from those in attendance.

The questions were sorted by category and answered in order,

  • Financials
  • St. Joseph River
  • Employment
  • Water/Aquifer/Water Discharge
  • Wells
  • ODNR
  • Opposition
  • Facility
  • Pioneer
  • Fish
  • Community Partnership
  • Town Hall
  • Legal and Miscellaneous

However there was one topic that had many questions, but no category, Mayor Edward Kidston.

There was a submitted comment and members of the audience chimed in several times that he had a big hand in the farm coming to Pioneer.

AquaBounty denies these claims and says they came to Pioneer on their own, without any thought of the Mayor.

Aqua Bounty is also adamant that they have the communities best interests in mind with the farm.

“It’s all about the water. And so what we want everyone to understand is making sure that there’s enough water for the community has to be job one, and then making sure there’s the right quantity and quality for our fish. It’s got to be job two,” said Wulf.

Discharge from that 479,000 square foot, $320 million facility under construction will go directly into the St. Joseph River, the main source of drinking water in Allen County. The plant will raise genetically engineered salmon, the company says, which are reportedly more sustainable than depleting salmon from the Atlantic. The company’s technology is also clean, it says.

Massachusetts-based AquaBounty operates a smaller, 122,000 square foot salmon farm in Albany that discharges into the Mississinewa River, according to environmentalists who oppose the Pioneer facility.

The activists who attended the meeting Wednesday evening are taking issue with AquaBounty’s application to pump 5 million gallons of water daily from the Michindoh Aquifer that serves lower Michigan, northwest Ohio and Steuben and DeKalb counties in Indiana, a region that currently pumps about 75 gallons daily to serve residents’ needs.

Environmental activists and local officials are also concerned about the discharge potentially unleashing contaminants in the form of antibiotics and DNA from genetically engineered fish commingling with the region’s wildlife.

Several violations at the Albany plant have included higher amounts of fecal coliform and ammonia, reports show.

Doug Fasick, executive director of the St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative in Allen County, said the group’s primary concern is based on the Water Withdrawal and Consumptive Use permit filed with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. He will attend Wednesday night’s meeting, he said.

The claim is “All water withdrawn shall be returned, either naturally or after use, to the Lake Erie watershed.”

“This statement misrepresents the hydrological cycle and infers recycling when in fact water is being taken from one source (aquifer) and discharged to another (surface water). The environmental and ecological impacts from extra discharge into the surface waters of the St. Joseph River needs to be studied,” Fasick wrote in an email.

“Studies should include impacts to the downstream towns of Auburn, Garrett, and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

AquaBounty spokesman John Curtis of Fahlgren said the company “believes in using science and technology to help solve global problems, like food scarcity and climate change. It has developed a new way to raise Atlantic salmon that is good for people and good for the planet.”

He continued: “The information you were provided about the Pioneer farm is not accurate. At the Pioneer facility, water will be continuously recycled through the system, flowing through large industrial biofilters that clean and provide the quality of water required for our salmon to grow and thrive.  In fact, 99.5% of water in the system is recycled/recirculated every minute.”

According to the application, water discharged into the St. Joseph River could add as much as 8.03 cubic feet per second to the river’s flow. To put this into perspective, during September, the St. Joe’s average flow is only 18.6 cubic feet per second, so the discharge amount will increase by a very significant 43.4%.

Fasick, who is also a manager with City Utilities Engineering, wrote in the email that the Initiative would like the opportunity to review the applicant’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System or NPDES.

“The St. Joseph Watershed Initiative (SJRWI) has been and will closely monitor and work with our state environmental agency regarding our concerns with the AquaBounty project.  Currently, we need and have requested more information on the nutrient and bacteria loading created by the 3 to 5 million gallons of water being discharged from this facility. This is a significant amount of water, so it is very important we understand the environmental and ecological impact,”  Fasick wrote.

Tom Selman, water superintendent in Angola in Steuben County, said that Angola is conducting a study of the aquifer in Steuben County, the sole source of drinking water there.

“Without good data showing that this amount of withdraw from the aquifer will not affect the surrounding users would concern me. I would hope that that information has been documented and made public,” Selman wrote in his email.

“I believe that the water within an aquifer is for all to protect, monitor, and use. Here in Steuben County, the county and city of Angola have writing resolutions to prevent water withdraws from this county to be used outside of the county. Aquifers are shared by many users throughout many counties and cities. This problem should be looked at as a regional resource, including all three states. Indiana, Ohio, Michigan,” Selman said.

“The City of Angola is investing in our future by conducting a study of our aquifer in our county. The study comes with a pretty large cost for a small community, but to understand what we have, how much are we using, how fast does it recharge, and how does future growth effect it, are questions we need to know. It is easy to think we are blessed with this great resource, but just look around at so many other states and the problems they have because the over use of their resources,” said Selman who cannot attend the meeting because he is out of town.

AquaBounty says on its website and confirmed in an email that “its state-of-the-art RAS technology and overall facility design, combined with the proximity to major markets, will generate a lower carbon footprint compared to flying salmon that was produced overseas. It also will ease pressure on wild salmon stocks, and use natural resources responsibly and sustainably. “

Susan Catterall, administrator of the Facebook page Michindoh Water Warriors, doesn’t want to take the chance.

“They say they’re going to be good steward,” said Catterall who lives in Steuben County and is a member of United Activists of Fort Wayne. “I don’t think a 5-million gallon a day, pump and dump operation is good stewardship. It just is not.”