Pittsfield planners delay CMP action

Posted Jan. 12, 2010, at 12:08 a.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — The planning board delayed Central Maine Power Co.’s application to upgrade 9.5 miles of power lines in town after several residents whose properties abut the project lobbied passionately against it.

According to John Titus Jr., a consultant who heads CMP’s town-to-town quest to gain site plan approvals for the Maine Power Reliability Project, only “a handful” of Pittsfield residents have not yet agreed to let the project happen on their land. If that assessment is correct, then nearly all of the holdouts aired their concerns at Monday night’s meeting.

The Maine Power Reliability Project is a $1.5 billion upgrade of electricity transmission lines that CMP says is necessary to meet energy demands in the future. In addition to site plan approvals in the 80 Maine towns involved, CMP needs a slew of state and federal permits. In Pittsfield, the project consists of major upgrades to transmission lines that already exist. Because the new lines will carry greater capacity, CMP needs about 50 feet of additional property along the entire line.

For Jenniffer Day of Johnson Flat Road, that totals about 10 acres over a 2-mile stretch of her land. CMP has proposed to buy the strip of property, as it has with scores of other landowners, but Day said the company’s offer isn’t fair.

“We have bent over backward trying to preserve our financial rights,” she told the board. “I don’t mind conceding our land. We just don’t want it stolen from us. We’re not asking for the moon.”

David Gould, of Crawford Road, is another of the Pittsfield property owners who have refused CMP’s offers so far. He ticked off a long list of concerns, many centering on the construction process. He also is concerned about horses that pasture around the lines and three wells on his property.

If Day, Gould and others refused to sell their property, CMP’s only option would be to try to acquire the property through eminent domain, in which land would be seized for “fair market value” whether the owners want to sell or not. That would require backing by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

“It frightens me to think that someone is going to try to come in here and take someone’s property,” said board member Walter Reuter, one of several to condemn the use of eminent domain.

Titus said CMP has exercised eminent domain fewer than five times in its history and is doing “everything possible” to avoid it for this project.

The board took no action on the application, asking the CMP representatives to come back with more information and many of their promises in writing. Titus said after the meeting that none of the issues raised Monday was insurmountable.

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