FARMINGTON — Opponents of a proposed transmission line through western Maine outnumbered proponents by a ratio of more than two-to-one in early testimony to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection Thursday night.

“I’m proud to show my granddaughter the vistas we have here in western Maine, the mountains we have,” said Steve Johnson, a resident of Solon. “Are we going to be the last generation to observe an unblemished vista? Will my grandkids be able to come to Maine and enjoy the pristine wilderness of this state?”

Johnson and others spoke against the New England Clean Energy Connect project, which would create 145 miles of new transmission line between Canada and Lewiston to bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts, during a public hearing before representatives of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The hearing comes near the end of a week of public hearings hosted by the DEP and Land Use Planning Commission at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Both agencies are currently considering permitting the project, which was also recommended for approval last week by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Opponents of the project have argued the power line, about 73 percent of which would be built in the same corridor as an existing transmission line, would disrupt the environment, scenery and wildlife in western Maine.

Proponents, meanwhile, have said the environmental impacts of the project would be minimal and have cited the benefits it will bring to Maine, including reduced carbon emissions, a $258 million benefits package from CMP and new tax revenues in the towns the line runs through.

“There will be impacts from this project,” said Lincoln Jeffers, a resident of Freeport who also works as the director of economic and community development for the city of Lewiston. “There are places where the power line will be visible where it is not today. However, those impacts must be weighed against the benefits. Gas and coal are dirty businesses. This project will help stop those negatives. People will not stop coming to Maine, hiking the Appalachian Trail, visiting the Moxie Gorge or participating in other tourism events because they might catch a glimpse of a power line.”

Peter Vigue, chairman of the board of the Pittsfield-based construction company Cianbro Corp., also encouraged the DEP to approve the project and submitted to the agency photos of the proposed project corridor in Somerset and Franklin counties.

“This is not pristine forest,” Vigue said. “This is a working forest with roadways going in every direction that are utilized by people who want access for snowmobiling, people who want access to ponds so they can go any way they want to.”

Others, meanwhile, encouraged the department to reject the project based on its impact to the scenic character and wildlife of the area.

“I’m amazed at the name of this project: New England Clean Energy Connect,” said Robert Bond, a retired teacher who has a camp in Carthage. “I’ve been to where Hydro-Quebec does all its clean energy, and I’ve seen what they’ve done to native tribes in that area. It’s disgraceful. I’ve seen the power lines go through Canada and it will ruin what we now take as the beauty of living in this place.”

Kim Lyman, a resident of Caratunk who also administers an opposition group, Say NO to NECEC, said CMP has claimed the project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions but hasn’t shown anything to guarantee that or shown what the project’s impact will be on total carbon emissions outside New England.

Lyman, who submitted copies of letters from towns in the corridor who have voted to revoke support or have taken stances against the project, also said she is opposed to the stance of Western Mountains & Rivers, a non-profit that formed to mitigate the impacts of the project and worked out an early deal to accept a $22 million benefits package from CMP.

“I have an issue with the fact CMP helped create a nonprofit to give the appearance people who live near the proposed power line support this project,” Lyman said. “I want the record to show Western Mountains & Rivers doesn’t speak for me and it doesn’t speak for so many of us who are close to this project.”

Becky Bartorios, the outgoing chair of the Sierra Club of Maine, also encouraged the department to not support the project, saying alternatives to the project were not adequately explored and the $258 million benefits package is not enough to offset the costs.

“The damage to Maine’s environment for Massachusetts to benefit for false clean power is huge — crossing 115 streams, 263 wetlands and numerous other ponds that provide critical wildlife habitat while dangling towering power lines over one of our most iconic forests,” Bartorios said.

So-called intervenors in the project, who have been approved by the state as being directly impacted by the project, will be allowed to testify in a final day of public hearings before the DEP Friday.

The public may attend, but not testify, at the hearing to be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the North Dining Hall on the UMF campus.

CMP is hoping to get the required permits from the DEP and the LUPC in the third quarter of 2019 and is hoping to have all necessary permits, including those from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Energy, by the end of the year.

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected] 

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

 

 

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