Regulators for Maine’s rural areas have deadlocked on a key vote for a massive power transmission corridor proposed by Central Maine Power over the project’s impact on a remote pond.

The Land Use Planning Commission ended its meeting Wednesday without deciding if the 145-mile corridor is allowed in unincorporated parts of its route through western Maine.

The power line, intended to bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts, is allowed in most of the areas it passes through. But in three spots – the Kennebec River Gorge, Appalachian Trail and Beattie Pond – it needs special exemptions from the commission.

Central Maine Power has agreed to bury the line under the scenic Kennebec Gorge and the new transmission corridor would run alongside existing power lines close to the Appalachian Trail near Moxie Pond.

But commissioners disagree about the impact of a 1.2-mile stretch of the corridor, called New England Clean Energy Connect, that passes near 27-acre Beattie Pond, close to the Canadian border. The tops of about two power transmission poles a quarter mile away would be seen from some points on the lake, sometimes used by fly fishermen.

The 10-member commission needs five votes to affirm or deny anything, Chairman Everett Worcester said.

“At this point I think we are comfortable with the Kennebec Gorge and grudgingly comfortable with the Appalachian Trail, and deadlocked on the Beattie Pond issue,” Worcester said before adjourning the meeting in Brewer.

The commission is expected to meet again next month to take up the issue.

Opponents of the project cheered the commission’s delay.

“Mainers don’t want CMP’s corridor blasted through our woods, and we have been very concerned that our state’s watchdog agencies have not been listening to our voices,” said Sandi Howard, from Say No to NECEC.

The group hopes commissioners “arrive at the right decision for our state: deny CMP’s permit to build the corridor.”

EXPENSIVE OPTIONS

In its application, CMP said it tried to buy land south of the pond, but the asking price was 50 times fair market rate and going north of the pond would increase the visual impact.

Burying the line could cost more than $15 million and would mean disturbance from heavy machinery and a permanent access road.

If the commission were to approve the plan, CMP would have to prevent motorized vehicles from using the corridor to get into the area.

There is one private residence on Beattie Pond and a 40-mile private gravel road limits regular public access.

But Commissioner Bill Gilmore, from Freeman Township in Franklin County, said that while he respects hydropower, he couldn’t support CMP’s proposed route.

“I’d be shocked if there wasn’t a better route and maybe a cheaper route,” Gilman said. “Having said that, if I owned the land around Beattie Pond as an individual, I wouldn’t want you in my backyard either way.”

But Worcester, the chairman, said trying to bury the line instead would have tremendous environmental consequences. Overall, the impact on the pond is minimal, he added.

“I don’t see any impact on the fishery,” Worcester said. “If there were better alternatives I would have to think they would be before us, that is where I land.”

The $1 billion transmission corridor has been touted as a way to reduce New England’s reliance on fossil fuels. It would mostly run along an expanded existing power line, but CMP proposes about 54 miles of new construction in undeveloped woodland.

This photo simulation shows the view northwest from Wilson Hill Road in West Forks toward the proposed CMP transmission line. Rendering/simulation courtesy of Central Maine Power

 

The controversial project has attracted opponents, including environmentalists and local residents worried it will destroy the region’s natural beauty and energy companies concerned about competition from Canadian hydro power.

CMP said it will wait for the commission’s decision, part of a permitting review by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP is expected to make a decision on whether to grant a permit for the project in late October or early November.

“We respect the determination of the LUPC that more time is required to duly consider all aspects of this project under their purview and await their decision accordingly,” said Thorn Dickinson, vice president of business development for Avangrid, CMP’s parent company, in a written statement.

But the Natural Resources Council of Maine said Wednesday’s session showed commissioners had identified “serious issues” with CMP’s plan.

“We were especially gratified to see the level of concern by members of the commission about the potential impacts on Beattie Pond, and commissioners were absolutely correct in focusing on CMP’s failure to evaluate alternatives that would reduce impacts,” NRCM Forest and Wildlife Director Cathy Johnson said in a statement.

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