On Jan. 23, this newspaper published an op-ed by Richard Anderson that supports Central Maine Power’s proposed new powerline and downplays concerns about its impacts on brook trout (“Climate change, not CMP, is the real enemy“).

Let me start with where I agree. Brook trout thrive in Maine’s cold streams, especially in the region that will be crossed by CMP’s new 53-mile-long corridor from Beattie Township to Moxie Gore. Climate change is a significant threat to them.

But I strongly disagree with his assessment that CMP’s powerline will have only minor impacts on brook trout, or that the climate benefits from the project will far outweigh those impacts. Based on the bio released with Anderson’s signature on a statement from the group Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs urging support for the corridor, it’s been 51 years since Anderson worked as a fisheries biologist in Maine. Our understanding of Maine’s brook trout resource and the threats to brook trout habitat has grown since then, and Anderson has either not read CMP’s application or does not understand what its proposal will mean for trout streams.

As a fisheries biologist who has been working for Trout Unlimited in Maine since 1999, who has been directly involved in assessment of hydroelectric dam impacts and land conservation projects in the region that the new section of the corridor will cross, and who read thousands of pages of CMP’s application package, I know the impacts well.

So does the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which wrote in their official comments on the permit application that “without the protection of 100-foot buffers at all streams, the quality of fisheries and habitat in these watersheds will be impaired.” State biologists asked for measures like taller poles to enable full canopy vegetation over trout streams to protect shade and other buffer functions. CMP did not oblige. I provided extensive comments on how CMP’s buffers were not adequate to protect brook trout, based on exactly what CMP proposed and commonly accepted standards for protecting brook trout streams.

Based on video of Anderson’s statements in a video released by Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs, it is clear to me that he is not familiar with the details of CMP’s application. For example, he stated that the NECEC would only impact “a few hundred yards” of trout streams. Using CMP’s own assessment, that’s an underestimate by more than 5,000%. CMP’s application provided extensive details about its crossings of 281 streams in the proposed 53 miles of new corridor from Beattie Pond to Moxie Gore, with a 50-yard-wide cleared corridor at each crossing. CMP’s own calculation is that “the NECEC will have 11.02 linear miles of forested conversion impact to streams.”

He’s also wrong that the NECEC project will reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses, for several reasons. Hydro-Quebec is not building new dams to provide this power to Massachusetts. They will simply send power from existing dams on this powerline to Massachusetts, rather than someplace else. If Massachusetts doesn’t buy that power, it will still get consumed somewhere.

For example, if sent to Nova Scotia, where about 60% of power generation is from coal, climate benefits would be about double what can be realized by displacing natural gas generation in Massachusetts. And analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions of Hydro-Quebec’s reservoirs published in peer-reviewed journals shows that they have significant greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from some of their older reservoirs have emissions roughly equivalent to natural gas plants.  Two newer reservoirs approach the greenhouse impacts of coal.

Finally, if Maine chooses not to permit CMP’s proposed project through the heart of our best brook trout habitat, there is an already approved power line from Quebec to Massachusetts through Vermont, the Clean Power Link, that has all regulatory approvals and is entirely under Lake Champlain or buried in existing rights of way where impacts are minimized.

If CMP’s project is not approved, Massachusetts can buy Hydro-Quebec’s power anyway, and have it carried by a powerline with much lower environmental impacts and little or no public opposition — at a slightly higher price, and on a powerline that CMP will not profit from.

CMP’s proposed powerline cuts through some of the least-impacted aquatic habitat in the eastern U.S., crossing the heart of the nation’s last significant reservoir of intact brook trout populations. This resource is much too valuable to sacrifice for dubious climate benefits.

Jeff Reardon lives in Manchester and works at the Maine Brook Trout Project Director for Trout Unlimited.


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