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The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

Conservation Groups Call For Stronger Environmental Concessions In CMP's Transmission Project

Central Maine Power illustrations
At left is a consultant mockup of the view from Coburn Mountain in western Maine in Central Maine Power's original proposal. At right is a revised mockup using "tapered cutting" techniques, proposed in January.

Opponents of Central Maine Power’s proposal to cut a new transmission corridor through western Maine are bearing down on efforts to get the company to come up with alternatives to the existing plan.

CMP says it has made some adjustments aimed at appeasing concerns raised by conservation groups and others, including a recent pledge to not use herbicides in a long section of the corridor.

The most controversial stretch of the power corridor, called Segment One, would extend 53 miles from the Canadian border into Maine’s north woods and over to Caratunk. CMP has acknowledged that the project would cause some environmental damage along that stretch by clearing a 150-foot swath of land, crossing trout streams and filling wetlands and vernal pools.

Early on, CMP said it would mitigate project effects by securing permanent conservation easements for some 2,000 acres of land and paying the state about $6 million for further land acquisition.

“From the beginning we made a commitment to be out in the community and hear concerns that were raised associated with the project and to agree that we had the ability to improve the project,” says Thorn Dickinson, vice president for business development at CMP’s parent company, Avangrid Networks.

Dickinson notes that last year, the company said it would bury the high-voltage power line under the Kennebec River Gorge rather than string it above. Since then, the company has offered to manage some areas to ease deer travel and to minimize view effects from Coburn Mountain and along Moxie Pond.

Just last week, CMP offered to forego using herbicides on Segment One.

“That’s an issue we’ve been looking at for some time, and Central Maine Power as part of this will be using this 53-mile piece to try this out. And we believe we can do this in a reasonable way and we think it improves the overall project in response to interest and concerns raised by people around the project,” Dickinson says.

Asked whether CMP would be willing to include the no-herbicide promise as a condition in state permits, Dickinson said "yes."

Some of the conservation groups opposing the project are unimpressed.

“This is really not a measure that is going to reduce the severe environmental impact of this project,” says Nick Bennett, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the state’s largest environmental advocacy group.

The herbicide measure and other adjustments CMP has made, he says, are window dressing.

“This project will still cause severe habitat fragmentation in an area that’s critical for many animals’ migratory routes. It will still wreck high-quality brook trout stream habitat by removing shade and warming waters. It will still increase the susceptibility of the entire 53-mile region to invasive species,” Bennett says.

NRCM, Trout Unlimited and the Appalachian Mountain Club are all opposing CMP’s efforts to win environmental permits from state and federal regulators. And even some conservation groups that haven’t taken a formal position, for or against, are joining the opponents in demanding that regulators require CMP to provide a more detailed and robust analysis of alternatives, such as placing all or parts of Segment One underground, or co-locating it with existing roadways.

“Undergrounding along Route 201 would be the most preferable mitigation method. Undergrounding along Spencer Road would be another preferable mitigation method,” says Rob Wood a policy analyst at the Nature Conservancy. “Then beyond that we’ve also requested more information on the possibility of using taller pole structures to maintain mature [forest] canopy in the right of way.”

In recent filings with the state Department of Environmental Protection, CMP says most of those initiatives would likely be technically unworkable, could cause more environmental harm than the existing overhead route and could be so costly that the project would not be economically viable.

Parties to the DEP permit case gather in Bangor on Thursday for a daylong hearing on those issues.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.