Plans for Running Tide Technologies Inc. to expand its operations at George J. Mitchell Field with the construction of a new building are on hold.
Running Tide operates a shellfish hatchery in a town building on Middle Bay. The business has an option to lease more town land for the construction of a new building, but wants a year “to evaluate a number of business issues” before it decides whether to exercise the option, according to a joint statement from Running Tide and the town.
The Harpswell Board of Selectmen approved the statement on Sept. 30.
In December 2018, Running Tide leased a 1.08-acre parcel with a run-down garage from the town. The building dates to Mitchell Field’s days as a U.S. Navy fuel depot, before its transfer to the town in 2001.
Running Tide renovated the building to create its hatchery, where it grows oysters; hard-shell clams, also known as quahogs; and surf clams. About seven people work at the hatchery year-round, according to Adam Baske, who heads Running Tide’s aquaculture operations.
In September 2021, the Harpswell Board of Selectmen approved a lease addendum that would allow Running Tide to expand onto a second lot — about 3.85 acres of meadow behind the hatchery.
Running Tide said that it planned to build a new, state-of-the-art facility and move its kelp-growing operations from Portland to Harpswell. At the time, CEO and founder Marty Odlin told the select board it “would be optimistic” to say construction would start in the next year.
According to the recent statement, Running Tide never executed the addendum because of “business considerations.”
Town Planner Mark Eyerman said that Running Tide told the town that “with everything that’s going on in the economy, the oyster business, and their internal plans, they were not prepared to go forward at this point with signing the lease addendum,” but would like to retain the option to do so.
The statement says the select board will give Running Tide until Sept. 30, 2023, to decide whether to lease the 3.85-acre lot, referred to as Parcel B. If Running Tide does not lease Parcel B by Sept. 30, 2023, its option to lease Parcel B will end.
The 2018 lease also gives Running Tide the option to lease a third parcel.
In addition to its shellfish business, Running Tide grows kelp to remove carbon from the environment, then sinks it in the deep ocean. It sells “carbon credits” to customers like corporations that want to offset their carbon emissions.
Running Tide’s work with kelp has attracted national media attention and millions of dollars in investment.
Baske, the aquaculture head, said by phone that the business does not need a bigger shellfish hatchery in Harpswell right now. Whether it will in the future depends on the direction and growth of the business.
The Harpswell hatchery was Running Tide’s first facility aside from its Portland office space, according to Baske, and it has space on the former Brunswick Naval Air Station where it builds its own aquaculture equipment. The business also operates a facility in Iceland. It has not moved its kelp-growing operations to Harpswell.
Maine Public reported in July that the Icelandic government had granted Running Tide a four-year permit to release up to 50,000 tons of biodegradable kelp rafts off Iceland’s coast, with the understanding that it could release up to 450,000 more tons in international waters.
Baske said the business has a “fantastic” relationship with Harpswell’s town government and wants the Mitchell Field facility to remain a “cornerstone” of its operations.