To say I was disappointed to read Sen. Scott Cyrway’s recent attack on the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project would be an understatement. In a recent op-ed, Cyrway was flat-out wrong about basic facts of the safety measures we have in place to keep our forests protected and our workers safe.

As the director of Engineering and Construction for the NECEC project, I take the safety of the hundreds of Maine workers building the powerline very seriously. I have also personally known Sen. Cyrway for a number of years, well before I began working on the NECEC.

In late 2020, at Sen. Cyrway’s request, we met to discuss our fire safety protocols after he publicly compared two small fires caused by trees striking distribution and service lines in Maine to the thousands of massive wildfires that routinely occur in California. I knew his concerns didn’t stand up to basic scrutiny, especially since most wildfires in Maine are caused by lightning strikes, campfires, and discarded cigarettes.  Fires that start due to our electrical infrastructure are very rare, and even those rare fires are not predominantly associated with transmission lines. Rather, it is more often distribution lines running along roadsides, on private property, or connected to homes that are often struck by trees (which Maine utilities don’t have a right to manage) that are the cause.

But out of respect to an elected official and someone I know, I was more than willing to discuss the planning we’ve done and precautions we’ve taken to protect Maine’s forests, first responders, residents, and our workers from any such threat.

More recently, my team, along with local fire departments, responded to a small fire in the corridor just before Memorial Day weekend. Shortly after, Sen. Cyrway publicly claimed that none of the concerns he and I discussed the year prior had been addressed. I wish he’d called me instead. To be clear, without having basic knowledge of the incident or acknowledging our updated fire safety protocols, he chose to go to the media. To that end, I find it appropriate to use the media to correct his outrageous claims.

First, the true details around the Memorial Day fire are much different than what Sen. Cyrway would have Mainers believe. According to state officials and our own fire protection team, the fire was not caused by equipment, transmission lines, or natural causes like a lightning strike. While the investigation is still ongoing, evidence points to either accidental or intentional human activity as the source of the fire (our crews were not working in the area when the fire was ignited).

Next, it’s dead wrong for Sen. Cyrway to say we didn’t follow through on our commitment to provide firefighters and first responders with more training. We have great respect for the hardworking first responders from the towns and communities along the corridor route. CMP and Avangrid had already begun developing an aggressive first responder training program before our meeting last year, and the program was put into place in the subsequent months. Since December 2020, we have conducted four first responder training sessions with forest rangers, game wardens, county sheriffs, and municipal fire and police departments in the corridor host communities of Lewiston, Starks, Anson and Bingham. Understandably, many departments wanted to wait to participate in training sessions until COVID-19 was behind us. Additional trainings will occur this summer, beginning in The Forks and Jackman.

Finally, our crews have an abundance of safety equipment on site, including off-road firefighting equipment that remains ready for use in case of an emergency. In fact, one of our 5,000-gallon dust control trucks was a tremendous asset in stopping the Memorial Day weekend fire from spreading. We also provide the Maine Forest Service with the access road maps and files we use to navigate remote areas.

Maine has been home to thousands of miles of transmission lines for well over a century, and transmission line fires are remarkably rare. Rather than fan the flames of discontent and anger that have been aimed at this project and the Mainers (including his constituents) who are working on it, Sen. Cyrway should demonstrate the kind of leadership that places a premium on accuracy and truthfulness over the falsehoods and innuendos that are a staple of the anti-corridor opposition groups.

Adam Desrosiers is director of Engineering and Construction for the NECEC project.


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