CMP line expansion plan raises questions

Posted Feb. 03, 2009, at 11:36 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — Councilors on the town’s Ordinance Committee had plenty of questions Tuesday night for those representing Central Maine Power’s proposal for a $1.5 billion power line expansion that will cover 9.6 miles within Pittsfield.

Most of the questions centered not on the details of construction, but on health concerns and land values.

Residents attending the meeting said they were concerned that the increased-voltage lines will be so powerful they would hum, and someone walking underneath them holding a florescent light bulb could watch the bulb glow.

Others, including Town Councilor Wayne Fotter, expressed serious concerns about electromagnetic fields and leaking voltage around the power lines that have been anecdotally linked to increased cancer rates.

Bonnie and John Curtis live within 50 feet of the power lines off Waverly Avenue.

“If those lines go in, we’re out of there,” John Curtis said, expressing concerns about his family’s health and adding that he will get far less value for his house after the lines are installed.

However, neither Bud Newell of TRC Solutions, a consulting firm for CMP, nor Nick Livesay of Pierce Atwood, an attorney on the project, could address those questions, which Newell said were similar to those heard in many of the 80 communities that are part of the expansion.

In Pittsfield, the new lines would follow the existing corridor, which heads in a diagonal line from the Detroit substation on Route 100, to north of the Interstate 95-Hartland Avenue intersect, then south to an area near Snakeroot Road. It is part of a path from Frankfort to Windsor.

Livesay said the ordinance amendments the company is seeking in Pittsfield and 22 other towns represent just the beginning of the permit process. There will be at least two public hearings in Pittsfield on the issue in the next two weeks, and federal guidelines for construction, clearance and setbacks must be followed.

Newell promised to bring CMP officials with expertise in those areas to the Pittsfield Planning Board public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 9.

“Don’t think I’m opposed to this,” Fotter said. “I just want information. The people in that area (along the lines) are going to be protected, whether it be their health, their property values or their quality of life. It is very important that you get the people to these hearings that can provide the answers.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Newell explained that the Pittsfield project is a small part of 500 miles of new power lines on 370 miles of a transmission corridor that will link Aroostook County with the rest of the New England power grid.

The project will result in a different pole configuration. In areas where land can be acquired to expand the existing corridor, the poles will be 75 feet tall compared to the existing 55 feet.

Newell said some properties have already been purchased in both Detroit and Pittsfield.

Where land cannot be acquired, poles that are considerably higher, up to 125 feet, will be placed on the existing narrower corridor to compress the service in a smaller area.

There will be three lines. Two will be 115,000 volts and the third will be 345,000 volts. The poles will also be higher where the lines cross roads, railbeds or water. There will be a combination of poles in an “H” shaped configuration and single steel poles.

Newell explained that CMP’s infrastructure is aging and that energy consumption has doubled since 1970.

“The system is 40 to 50 years old,” he said. “If changes are not made now, CMP customers will face brownouts and blackouts soon.”

Because the representatives could not answer many of the Ordinance Committee’s questions, Mayor Tim Nichols said it was not prepared to make a recommendation to the town council. “We and the public have lots of questions that need to be answered first,” he said.

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