Central Maine Power’s president and CEO said Wednesday that the utility will not use herbicides and pesticides to clear vegetation as it builds its proposed hydropower corridor, which would run from the Canadian border through western Maine to Lewiston.
The move comes on the eve of the final day of deliberations on the proposed project to be held Thursday by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Land Use Planning Commission. The project would need permits from both agencies.
The use of herbicides and pesticides has been a key part of environmentalists concerns about building the corridor, including during the April 1-5 DEP and LUPC hearings in Farmington.
New England Clean Energy Connect, the name of the project and the CMP spinoff company that will run it, said it would not use any herbicides or pesticides in constructing the new 53-mile right of way to the border with Canada.
“Our commitment to not use herbicides on the 53 miles of new right of way illustrates yet another positive step forward towards a significant environmental milestone created by New England Clean Energy Connect,” Doug Herling, CMP’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
He said the company has an objective to improve its environmental responsibility, including reduction of its carbon footprint. He added that the move goes above current regulations in place in Maine.
Herling said one of the main reasons for making the change is that Rep. Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery, asked the company to consider not using pesticides or herbicides. The request was made in the past couple weeks. Herling responded to Rykerson in a May 1 letter that was copied to the Legislature.
Herling said the company will use manual labor instead by contracting with a vegetation management company to clear the 53 miles of corridor that would be 150-feet wide. Any trees or other vegetation that could grow to 12 feet or higher would be removed.
He said there is no current cost estimate for the manual removal but that it will add money to the proposed project.
“We’ve not done this before. We see it as an opportunity to look at vegetation management and learn how effective it could be in other areas,” he said.
The company clears vegetation from existing power lines every five years. He said the corridor lines would be cleared every other year.
However, some who oppose the corridor say not using herbicides and pesticides is not enough.
“The damages that would be done to Maine’s North Woods have been well documented and would occur regardless of herbicide use,” Nick Bennett, staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in an email. “These include loss of biodiversity, increased populations of invasive species, warmer stream temperatures and loss of high quality brook trout habitat, visual impacts, and impacts to deer wintering areas.”
In late April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, responding to a request for comments on the NECEC project by the Army Corps of Engineers, asked for an analysis of possible alternative routes for the corridor that might minimize environmental effects. The Army Corps also is considering a permit for the project.
The EPA said that, as proposed, the project would cause direct and secondary impacts to many wetlands, streams and vernal ponds. It would fill 4.9 acres of wetlands and cause impacts to aquatic resources, mostly from vegetation clearing in forested wetlands, and the removal of trees next to streams and vernal pools.
“The transmission line would clear 1,800 acres … and cross more than 200 rivers, streams and brooks, removing over 11 linear miles if riparian vegetation adjacent to these aquatic resources,” wrote Beth Alafat, acting chief of the EPA’s Wetlands Protection Unit. “The project would impact hundreds of acres of wetlands, including 242 vernal pools, mostly through secondary impacts.”