Some snowmobilers and hunters in Maine are raising their voices against the high-voltage transmission line that Central Maine Power wants to string through western Maine in order to bring electricity to Massachusetts. The Maine Snowmobilers Association (MSA) is contending with dissent in its ranks, while the Sportsmen's Alliance of Maine is reconsidering its initial endorsement of the project.
CMP's website for the project highlights endorsements from a variety of groups, from Gov. Paul LePage to the state Chamber of Commerce and a grab-bag of host communities. It also includes an endorsement from the state's premier hunting and gun rights advocacy group, the Sportsmen's Alliance of Maine (SAM).
"That was months and months ago,” says David Trahan, SAM’s executive director. “It's become quite controversial."
Trahan says his board's initial endorsement vote was not unanimous, but given what seemed like the project's inevitability and a longstanding relationship with CMP that enhanced hunters' access to the woods, early support was warranted.
"Initially it looked like, with the governor's support, things seemed to be on greased skids to be completed and done,” he says. “As more stuff has come up, more members have reached out to us and said 'what are we going to do here?'”
Trahan says that as CMP has provided more information to the state, and as the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife staff have raised concerns about ecosystem impacts, SAM's members have become more concerned. They are worried about issues such as damage to winter deer yards and buffers for pristine habitat for native trout.
Those concerns have long been voiced by SAM's former executive director, George Smith.
"They don't care about our native brook trout,” Smith says. “They were going to put these things 20 feet from the water, and they moved them back a little bit, but not nearly enough. And we have all the native brook trout in lakes and ponds left in this country. So this is a very important resource."
SAM is now sending a survey to its 8,000 members to get a better tally of their views on the project.
The snowmobiling community, meanwhile, also has a long-standing partnership with CMP, which provides riders access to hundreds of miles of powerline corridor. But when a representative of the Maine Snowmobile Association praised the new project at a public hearing last week, some members dissented.
Tania Merette of Long Pond Township says she was an MSA member but, “I will be rescinding my membership. I was one of those business members, I was one of those snowmobile members. So there's one less of each of those. And I ride those trails a lot."
A handful of other project opponents also say they are terminating their MSA memberships. And others, like Pete Dostie, say that they may stay in the organization, but will work against the project. Dostie's built miles of snowmobile trail on and around Coburn Mountain, and he says that CMP's plan to run the transmission line over a saddle in that mountain will ruin the outdoors experience there, harming area businesses that depend on winter snow-travelers.
"If you lose those trails or have these massive wires going basically around it like a horseshoe, we won't be able to get to it for two years for construction, and essentially after that it'll be... 'who wants to drive ten hours from New Jersey to be back in New Jersey?' They'll just find somewhere else to go and we'll lose that,” Dostie says.
MSA Executive Director Bob Myers says he's seen contention in the group before, as when a development called Plum Creek was proposed for the Moosehead Lake region. But this year's contention over the CMP project has a certain edge.
"This is literally the first time we've had somebody say 'I don't like what you're doing so much I'm going to quit,’" he says.
Myers says the organization's 12,000 "family" memberships represent a diverse set of views on the issue. But the board, he says, emphasizes CMP's history of cooperation with snowmobilers and the importance of its trails for traversing the state, no matter what one thinks of their aesthetics.
"On a more basic level, they're a landowner, and it's our tendency to support landowners because they are the people that provide the access for our trails around the state,” says Myers.
CMP has seen erosion in public support over the last couple of months. Five towns have voted to oppose the project — even though initially their local or county governments had endorsed it — and more votes in other towns are expected. The four candidates for governor have raised concerns about the project, and none of them has endorsed it.
CMP spokesperson John Carroll argues that the project provides a conduit for renewable hydro-electricity from Canada into New England, a positive step against global warming that, he says, outdoor enthusiasts should applaud.
"If we don't have good reliable long winters, if we don't have a reliable snowpack, if we see radical changes in our forest type that climate change affects everything about Maine, sportsmen as well as everyone else will be affected by it," Carroll says.
But some environmental groups say the project will not result in a reduction in greenhouse gases. Last week CMP filed its proposal to mitigate the project's ecosystem impacts. That includes the donation of more than 2000 acres of land to the state, and paying more than $4 million into a state fund that can identify and secure other wildlife habitat.
Originally published 3:43 p.m. Oct. 25