SKOWHEGAN — Somerset County commissioners on Wednesday voted against rescinding support for a proposed 145-mile transmission line from Quebec to Lewiston and on to Massachusetts, drawing criticism from a small group of opponents gathered at the Somerset County Superior Courthouse.

The controversial New England Clean Energy Connect project from Central Maine Power would run through central Somerset County before passing through Franklin County and on to Lewiston and has been met with growing opposition in recent months, including from a handful of towns that have moved to rescind support.

Following recent pleas from both supporters and opponents of NECEC, the commission voted 3-2 to not rescind support, with commissioners Cyp Johnson, District 2, and Robert Sezak, District 1, in the minority.

District 5 Commissioner Lloyd Trafton, who also sits on the board of Western Mountains & River Corp., the nonprofit that negotiated a $22 million benefits package from CMP, said it was not a conflict of interest for him to vote on continued support of the project because he is not paid and “receives nothing” as a board member.

“I haven’t participated in any decision making (for Western Mountains & Rivers),” he said after the meeting. “The group is still being formatted.”

The commission also approved taking no further action on the NECEC project after a motion from Trafton, who said he wanted to see the issue “put to bed.”

That item passed 3-2 as well, with Johnson and Sezak opposing the motion.

The only discussion on whether to rescind support was a statement read by Sezak, in which he spoke about historical tensions in Maine between industry and natural beauty.

“In January, I stated this is a sound proposal, and now I question that,” Sezak said, referring to commissioners’ initial move to support the project nearly one year ago. “I am in favor of hydroelectric power and an increased commercial property tax base, but I am not in favor of these things at any cost. I believe the cost to the environment is greater than the value of the CMP powerline extending through the greater part of our Maine forests.”

About 10 people opposed to the project attended the Wednesday meeting, some wearing T-shirts that said “No CMP corridor.”

“I’m very disappointed,” said Jennifer Poirier, a Skowhegan resident who has a camp in the unorganized territory of Somerset County. “Kudos to Sezak and Johnson. They’re the only two commissioners that listened to what the people want and what’s good for Maine.”

Poirier said she will be directly affected by the project corridor running through the unorganized territory near Rock Pond.

“The CMP corridor would cross pretty much that whole side of Rock Pond, so that’s all you’d see,” she said.

Clarence Ayotte, of North Anson, also said he was disappointed with the decision Wednesday.

“I just feel they didn’t do their job,” said Ayotte, who also has a camp in northern Somerset County. “They were elected to stand up for the people, and they took the easy way out. They didn’t have all the facts when they voted in January and now they do — so vote on it.”

Clarence Ayotte and Jennifer Poirier, opponents of CMP’s New England Clean Energy Connect project, speak about the project that has the support of the Somerset County Commissioners after a meeting in Skowhegan on Wednesday.

While some communities across Maine have reconsidered support for the project, CMP spokesman John Carroll said about 30 of 38 communities in the corridor remain in support. Their statements are largely symbolic, but could carry weight with the state agencies in charge of licensing and approving the transmission line.

“We certainly appreciate the continued support,” Carroll said. “We know people have questions and we are going to continue to work to answer those questions and help people understand what the benefits to the project are. We hope over time to have everyone support the project.”

The company has estimated NECEC will generate about $18 million annually in new property tax revenue in Maine and will create on average 1,700 jobs each year during construction.

Customers frustrated by rising energy costs can also look forward to future savings generated by 1,200 megawatts of energy injected into the regional grid, Carroll said.

In contrast, opposition to the project has built around concerns about the impact on the environment, tourism and wildlife; what benefit there is for Maine residents and ratepayers; and whether the power line would threaten the development of renewable energy in the state.

Sandra Howard, a spokeswoman for the opposition group Say No to NECEC, said in an email ahead of the vote that she wanted to thank commissioners for listening to constituents on the matter and no matter the outcome, the group wished CMP “had made legitimate public outreach during the early stages of the project, which would have offered local and county leaders an opportunity to have a true sense of public input in order to make their decision of whether or not to offer support.

“Now that opposition to NECEC is growing and it’s negative impacts are being revealed, we appreciate that the (Somerset County commissioners) and other leaders reconsidered their stance. This is a highly controversial topic in Maine right now and it warrants further examination.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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