BY DOUG HARLOW

Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — Central Maine Power Co. is spending $1.4 billion to modernize its 40-year-old power delivery system, but it set aside a little extra recently for a nesting osprey on U.S. Route 201.

CMP is also keeping its an eye on another osprey nest in East Madison, where preparations for power line work is underway.

Work on 3.3 miles of power lines near the Sappi paper mill in Skowhegan includes replacing 12 of the H-frame transmission line support poles.

But high atop one of the poles sat the osprey nest.

The pole had to be replaced, so the nest had to be moved, said CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice.

“We put up a new pole at a platform nearby and moved the nest, including the eggs inside it, to the platform,” Rice said. “The birds kept pretty close and watched as all this was going on, and our ground crews shared the good news that the birds were sitting on the new nest on the platform. The move went very smoothly.”

The female osprey could be seen this week occasionally poking her head from the nest while incubating her clutch of eggs, while the male bird swooped about, gathering sticks for the nest and fishing for supper in the Kennebec River. The osprey diet is primarily fish.

Rice said CMP takes the presence of wildlife and nesting birds seriously. She said the company trains all of its field workers on state and federal laws protecting wildlife — ospreys included. Each nest is evaluated individually, the safety of the birds and the safety of the crews working near the nests.

“We work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to comply with these laws and to get advice on how to improve our practices,” Rice said. “We also work with Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation facility in Freedom, to seek input on how best to manage different situations.”

No one was available to comment Tuesday from either Avian Haven or at the Maine Audubon Society about the osprey move. According to explore.org, osprey produce a clutch of two to four eggs. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of 35-42 days. During incubation and chick-rearing, the eggs and chicks are seldom left alone, even at night, to protect them from predators.

About 50 days after hatching, the young begin exercising their wings, then take their first flights from the nest, according to the website. In early September, the young will begin their first journey from Maine to South America for the winter.

A live webcam of osprey nesting is available at www.ustream.tv/exploreOsprey

Power line work in Skowhegan is part of CMP’s Maine Power Reliability Program. The transmission line runs northerly from Varney Road, near Sappi Fine Paper, across the Kennebec River and eventually connects with a switchyard south of Oak Pond Road. The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved the Maine Power Reliability program in 2010. The project also got approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and approximately 80 local government and other agencies.

Construction began in 2010 and is expected to be finished next year, according to a CMP news release.

The improvements are intended to keep the system operating reliably over the coming decades and to provide an infrastructure for distribution of electricity generated by the state’s emerging wind, hydro, biomass, and tidal energy industries.

The program adds to the company’s network of substations and transmission lines that stretch from the town of Eliot on the New Hampshire border to Orrington, where it connects to transmission lines from northern and eastern Maine.

The four-year construction project was expected to create an average of 2,100 jobs per year and pump more than $1 billion into the region’s economy, according to CMP.

The power line replacement work in Madison, East Madison and Cornville — called the Lakewood Project — is a separate project, but is part of the same program, Rice said.

“We are rebuilding the Lakewood substation in Madison — this will include adding a transformer, installing four new breakers and other equipment, plus expanding the control house at the facility,” he said.

The cost of the Lakewood project is approximately $24.58 million, but because it provides a regional reliability benefit, ISO New England, which supervises the bulk electric power market in the six-state region, approved CMP’s request to classify the project as a “pool transmission facility.”

That designation means an estimated $17 million of that $24.58 million cost can be spread among electric ratepayers throughout New England, reducing the burden on CMP customers.

The power company may not be finished relocating osprey, a species that became endangered in the 1950s because of chemical pollutants such as DDT, which thinned their eggshells and hampered reproduction. A resident of the Lakewood Project area alerted the Morning Sentinel and CMP over the weekend, asking if anyone else had noticed “the heavy equipment operating under an active osprey nest on the power line on the East Madison Road.”

“Is there something that can be done to stop the operation until the chicks have fledged?” the resident, Kit Poland, asked in the email. “I have heard that CMP removed an osprey nest down near the Sappi mill. Doesn’t seem like the birds should have made a comeback from near extinction just to be eliminated by the power company.”

Poland said she got a reply to a similar email sent to CMP.

Rice said the power company is aware of the osprey nest in East Madison and will monitor activity there to see how the birds react to the work going on there

“One of our people up in the area said the osprey was still on the nest — she was not abandoning the nest during the ground activity that was going on,” Rice said. “From past experience, we’ve found the ospreys to be very adaptive to work going on around them. For this reason, we decided to leave the nest in Madison in place while the crews work. We will continue to monitor the ospreys throughout the season.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367 | dharlow@centralmaine.com | Twitter: @Doug_Harlow