SKOWHEGAN — Speakers opposing the New England Clean Power Connect project presented Somerset County commissioners on Wednesday with a formal plea, reiterating the message they delivered Oct. 3 — reconsider your support of Central Maine Power Co.’s plan to build a $1 billion, 145-mile transmission line through the Maine wilderness to deliver hydropower from Quebec to the power grid in Massachusetts.

Sandra Howard, a spokeswoman for the group Say NO to 145-mile transmission line through Maine and a registered Maine guide in Caratunk, opened the workshop meeting with county commissioners, presenting a list of 88 businesses, municipalities and individuals along the corridor route that oppose the project.

She said members of her group conducted studies of commercial and recreational “users” of the area from 15 states and three Canadian provinces and reported most would oppose the corridor.

She said the project would have “huge visual impacts” throughout the area, as well as on water quality, wildlife and fish habitat and Kennebec River rafting businesses.

“The Kennebec River is important, but it’s not the only part of the corridor,” Howard told the full five-member board of county commissioners. “We’re concerned about so much of Somerset County. People who come to Somerset County value the scenery.”

Visitors want a wilderness experience for hiking, fishing, hunting and snowmobiling and will spend their money in the county if it is left as it is. If not, Howard said, they may never return and the local economy will suffer.

Howard and others said they feared the massive corridor also would become a gateway to unwanted additional wind turbines along the route.

In January 2017, county commissioners submitted a letter of support to CMP for the project, representing towns and unorganized territories in the county along the proposed corridor. In a 4-0 vote on Jan. 4, with District 1 Commissioner Robert Sezak, of Fairfield, abstaining, commissioners said the plan, if accepted as part of the New England Clean Energy Connect project, will be good for the tourism economy and local infrastructure, boost the region’s tax base and reduce energy prices.

The proposed CMP power line would go over – or under – the Kennebec Gorge, where whitewater rafting draws thousands of visitors every year from Harris Station Dam, pictured here, to Carry Brook farther downriver. Photo courtesy of Maine.gov

Since that time, communities including Caratunk, The Forks, West Forks, Moose River, and Dennistown have voted to oppose the project. Petitions are circulating in Jackman, Moscow and in Franklin County towns, according to Howard

Jennifer Poirier, a Skowhegan resident, school board member and landowner in northern Somerset County, stood to show images from Google Earth, where the corridor would be visible from multiple locations that currently have “pristine views.”

She said various road associations in the unorganized territories in the area also oppose the corridor project.

Other speakers Wednesday included Rebecca Adams, of Maine Assessment and Appraisal Services; Elizabeth Caruso, first selectwoman in the town of Caratunk and a Maine guide; and Sue Ely, a climate and clean energy policy advocate and staff attorney at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

All of them spoke of the potential effect on tourist dollars currently enjoyed in four-season visits to Somerset County.

“Not everybody is aware of the beauty that we have here,” Caruso said, adding that the jobs CMP cites as a positive part of the project would be temporary and probably filled by people from away.

Others noted that CMP’s continued power outages might be an indication of the company’s inability to deliver safe and reliable energy.

“If there’s a power outage, would Skowhegan be restored first, or Boston?” one resident quipped.

Newell Graf, of Skowhegan, chairman of the county commissioners, said no decision would be made Wednesday. He said people from the other side of the debate would be scheduled to present their thoughts during the board’s December meeting.

The massive power line proposal was hatched earlier this year after a similar plan in New Hampshire was abandoned because of regulatory problems.

The project, which CMP believes it can finish by the end of 2022, needs state-level approvals, along with federal government and Massachusetts regulatory approval for a 20-year deal to buy power from Quebec. The corridor would be 150 feet wide in places along a 300-foot-wide swath of land, then expand to around 500 feet in width in places south of Wyman Dam, all with 95-to-100-foot transmission towers. The line would run from the Canadian border near Route 27 then south of Jackman to Johnson Mountain Township, skirting West Forks to Moxie Gore and The Forks, where the new line would join the existing line from Harris Station at the head of the Kennebec River.

The line also would run near Caratunk and Moscow to the Wyman Lake hydroelectric station, crossing the Kennebec River south of Bingham into Concord Township. From there the line would run through Embden and Anson and into Starks, Industry and New Sharon to Farmington and on south to Lewiston.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Appalachian Mountain Club have objected to the project because of potential effect on the landscape and what they said were an exaggeration of environmental benefits cited by CMP.

In concession to opponents of the corridor project, CMP said in October that it would be willing to run a portion of the power line under the scenic Kennebec Gorge.

The power company said it would drill under the river instead of stringing power lines overhead if it won approval for the 145-mile transmission line project. In June, CMP said burying the line would add $37 million to the $950 million project.

Also in June, the company signed an agreement with a nonprofit called Western Mountains and Rivers Corp. to invest $22 million into nature tourism and conservation if its transmission line were strung over the gorge. But if CMP installs the line under the gorge, or in a different location, Western Mountains and Rivers will get between $5 million but not more than $10 million, according to the agreement.

One resident objected to the fact that County Commissioner Lloyd Trafton, of West Forks, is affiliated with Western Mountains and Rivers and said that was a conflict of interest.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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