March 18, 2019
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LePage says he stalled agreement for state to take over Kennebec River Gorge from CMP

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the Republican Convention, Saturday, May 5, 2018, in Augusta, Maine.

Gov. Paul LePage said he is stalling completion of an 8-year-old state agreement to take ownership of the scenic Kennebec River Gorge — land that is owned by Central Maine Power.

In 2010, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection approved CMP’s plan for a massive electricity transmission upgrade and expansion in Maine. As part of its application, the utility company agreed to protect thousands of acres of land elsewhere to compensate for ecosystems and recreational resources that would be disturbed by the project.

Miles of land along Somerset County’s Kennebec River Gorge, a mecca for whitewater rafters, was included. But the final deed transfer never took place, and at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Portland, LePage provided some insight into why.

“Right now I’m in a battle,” LePage said. “There’s a law that says that Central Maine Power’s required to give the Kennebec Gorge to the state of Maine; they’re just going to donate it to the state of Maine. And they came in and said, ‘Why aren’t you accepting it?’ I said, ‘Because it comes off the tax rolls. If you agree to pay the taxes on it, I’ll take the land.’”

The statement was part of a larger commentary by LePage on his general opposition to land deals that take large swathes of property off the tax rolls. LePage did support using public funds to conserve another Somerset County property that’s owned by a wealthy campaign contributor, though that effort failed.

CMP spokesperson John Carroll said the company, which pays only about $2,500 per year in taxes for the property, wants to find a way to satisfy the governor. The most significant effect of the stalled ownership transfer, he said, has to do with who manages the property.

“There was a commitment or an expectation that the state would develop its own management plan for the property in terms of stewardship and management of it, and that’s probably the piece that’s waiting for this final step,” Carroll said.

But Carroll said even if that issue isn’t soon resolved, it will not affect the company’s new proposal to build a major transmission line across the gorge — a deal that also includes donations of funding and land conservation aimed at Somerset county’s recreational economy.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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