The federal Environmental Protection Agency is sharply criticizing the Army Corps of Engineers for the way it has handled Central Maine Power's application for a federal permit to build a controversial transmission line through western Maine.
The Director of Wetlands Programs for this region's EPA division, Beth Alafat, wrote the letter to the Corps last week. In it she says the Corps issued public notice of permit proceedings too quickly and was not providing adequate time for review by interested parties.
She also calls on the Corps to require CMP to provide a detailed analysis of alternatives to its plan, with a focus on some 53-miles of new overhead powerline corridor CMP proposes to cut through western Maine woodlands — alternatives such as burying the line or going on les damaging routes.
Conservation groups say they are heartened by the EPA's intervention. David Publicover is senior staff scientist at the Appalachian Mountain Club.
"The EPA letter reflected many of the concerns that we have expressed throughout the process, in terms of the habitat fragmentation impacts, the impacts on vernal pools and brook trout streams, the lack of an adequate consideration of less damaging alternatives, and the lack of a fully adequate mitigation," Publicover says.
In an email to Maine Public earlier this week, Army Corps Project Manager Jay Clement wrote that CMP is required to submit a detailed alternatives analysis, but did not have plans to extend the comment period, even though the EPA says the record is not yet complete.
Next Thursday, meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Protection holds a final hearing on CMP's application for a state environmental permit. DEP staff, as well, are seeking more details on alternatives to the planned route, or the prospects of burying parts of the line.