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Lawmakers Investigate CMP Power Line Construction, Join Calls for Halt

Brian Bechard
Maine Public

Local residents and lawmakers opposed to the western Maine hydropower corridor initiated by Central Maine Power sent two separate pleas to the state Commissioner of Environmental Protection Wednesday, calling for a halt to project operations. They say that work in the most ecologically sensitive areas has violated permit requirements for tree-cutting and runoff.

Late last month four lawmakers, including Oxford Senator Rick Bennett, visited a remote section of the project in the Johnson Mountain Township, near the Canadian border. They say they measured miles of forest land where CMP cut an 80-to-100 foot swathe to the ground.

The Department of Environmental Protection's permit, however, allows only a 54-foot cleared zone in that segment of the corridor, with shrubs and progressively taller trees selectively preserved to form an upward-tapering canopy on either side.

Bennet says the evidence shows that the whole "tapering" idea is unworkable in the dense, mature forest.

"The forest tapering condition to protect the wildlife, fisheries and vistas may be effective on paper. But in reality it has no positive effect. In our view all operations must cease until this condition is addressed," Bennet says.

And the same day as the lawmakers held their press conference, a coalition that includes Caratunk, West Forks Plantation, and area businesses and citizens also called for a halt to operations. They cite allegations by a former member of the DEP's citizen authority, the Board of Environmental Protection, that CMP is violating rules for protecting wetlands and other areas from project runoff and sedimentation.

In a statement, CMP says it has no incentive to violate any of its permit conditions, and that DEP's staff have confirmed the company's permit compliance. Project opponents note that DEP has hired only three third-party inspectors to monitor the 141-mile project.

In a statement, a DEP spokesman said the agency will evaluate the dual complaints.

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.