PITTSFIELD, Maine — Buried in a mountain of paperwork and research and barraged by serious concerns of local homeowners, planning board members Monday night unanimously tabled action on a zoning change for two months.
The change had been requested by Central Maine Power as part of its Maine Power Reliability Project.
The inaction mirrored the attitude of the Town Council’s ordinance committee, which after a similar presentation by CMP representatives last week refused to recommend the change to the council, saying it needed more information.
At both meetings, Bud Newell of TRC Solutions, which represents CMP, described the $1.5 billion project as “an interstate system” which will allow for badly needed upgrades to the state’s electrical system and a major increase in the voltage carried by the lines.
But people living along the 9.6 miles that will be affected in Pittsfield attended both meetings and raised questions about health concerns, rights of way, property values and proper notification.
After Newell said that most national and international studies on presumed health issues because of electromagnetic fields and stray voltage are inconclusive, David Goulette of Crawford Road said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” He said there are six cases of cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s within sight of his home, which borders the power lines. “Send someone out to the Crawford Road and talk to some of these people, at least the ones that are still alive,” Goulette said.
Harriet Street resident Bonnie Curtis, who lives 50 feet from the power lines, said that just because hunters and snowmobilers use the power line right of way for recreation does not mean it is safe.
“You can cross Main Street five times a day and not be hit by a car,” she said. “But if you stand in the middle of the street, something bad is likely to happen.”
Curtis also said that local real estate agents have told her that high-tension power lines devalue properties, making some of them unsellable.
Jennifer Day of Johnson Flat Road asked planning board members to become intervenors in the Public Utilities Commission permitting process. “This power line will be the main trunk for the whole state of Maine,” she said. “It will never get smaller.”
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 intersection, then south to an area near Snakeroot Road.
Newell said the ordinance amendment the company is seeking in Pittsfield and 22 other towns is just the beginning of the permit process. There will be at least two more public hearings on the issue in Pittsfield in the next two weeks, and federal guidelines for construction, clearance and setbacks must be followed.
The proposed upgrade consists of 245 miles of new 345-kilovolt transmission line and 74 miles of new 115-kilovolt transmission line, 10 miles of rebuilt 345-kilovolt transmission line and 155 miles of rebuilt 115-kilovolt transmission line and additional improvements.
Two 115,000-volt lines and a 345,000-volt one would run through Pittsfield.
The project will result in a different utility pole configuration, according to Newell. In areas where land can be acquired to widen the existing corridor, the poles will be 75 feet tall, compared with the existing 55-foot poles. Newell said properties already have been purchased in both Detroit and Pittsfield.
Where land cannot be acquired to widen the existing corridor, new 125-foot poles will be put up to compress the power service in the smaller area.
The poles will be higher where the lines cross roads, rail beds or water, he said.
Newell said the project will affect 80 communities and ordinance amendments will be required in 23.
In deciding to wait two months to take action, planning board member Jennifer Siter said Monday, “We don’t have all the information. We are still waiting for additional documentation.”
Chairman Fred Raynes added, “We can’t rush on something this important. We don’t want to open a big door that we don’t have the answers for.”
Even if the ordinance change were approved, Code Enforcement Officer Steve Seekins said, any project, including CMP’s, would require a site plan review and planning board approval.