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State Revisits Allegations Of Clear-Cuts for CMP-Backed Power Line

Brian Bechard
Maine Public

A state environmental regulator is seeking more information on whether the workers on the western Maine transmission corridor backed by Central Maine Power violated the project's state permit for tree-clearing. Opponents say the state should shut the project down until further investigation is complete.

A Bangor-based certified forester, Roger Merchant, who opposes the project, says he inspected several sections of the "New England Clean Energy Connect" in the Coburn Mountain area, and found that workers razed a line as wide as 104 feet. He says that's almost double the 54-foot width allowed by the permit.

"Maybe there's a tree, a little tree standing here or there," Merchant says. "But when I looked at that I said 'well from what I'm seeing here, this meets the definition of a classic clear-cut, strip clear-cut."

The DEP official overseeing the project, Jim Beyer, initially dismissed the allegations in late May, telling lawmakers construction work complied with the permit. But two weeks later, Beyer sent Merchant an email asking for more specifics about the locations where the forester says he saw violations.

"The results of your measurements suggest the cleared area is between 86 feet and 104 feet wide," Beyer wrote.

Now a group of opponents from the upper Kennebec River area, including the governments of Caratunk and West Forks Plantation, have submitted to the DEP that email and other documents they say amplify their request that project work be found in violation and halted until DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim reviews the information.

The transmission line’s project leader, Thorn Dickinson, says DEP conducts weekly inspections. “The stay request is the latest in an endless string of baseless attempts by project opponents to spread misinformation about the project,” he said in an email statement. “Most recently, these same people purported "evidence" of similar violations by using a handmade measuring tape to measure distance diagonally across the corridor. Their embarrassing claims were quickly discounted by state regulators and the media. The NECEC has no reason not to comply with the parameters set by the Maine DEP.“

Forester Roger Merchant says he was careful to take his measurements at a 90 degree angle to the corridor’s length.

A DEP spokesman says the agency is reviewing the stay request.

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.