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The Land Use Planning Commission, which was expected to rule Wednesday on whether or not it would grant a site law certification for Central Maine Power’s proposed $1 billion hydropower corridor, failed to reach agreement and postponed discussions until its October meeting.
Commission Chairman Everett Worcester said the commissioners were close on their decisions to agree to exceptions for the lines at the Kennebec River and Appalachian Trail, but remained deadlocked on Beattie Pond, a fishery that is protected.
“I’d be shocked if there wasn’t a better route,” said Commissioner William Gilmore. “If I owned the land around Beattie Pond, I wouldn’t want you in my backyard.”
Other commissioners questioned whether fishermen would look up at the towers instead of watching their lines and the fish.
The commission oversees the Unorganized Territory, the area of Maine having no local, incorporated municipal government.
Bill Hinkel, regional supervisor for the commission, headed today’s deliberations in Brewer. They focused on areas around Beattie Pond, the Kennebec River and the Appalachian Trail where the transmission line would cross. Some of the areas in question are shown on the commission’s website.
The commission is a nine-member board composed of county and gubernatorial appointees. It needs five votes to pass or deny any request.
In turn, its decision would certify to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection whether the CMP project is an allowed use within the areas where it is proposed.
It is the second regulator, behind the Maine Public Utilities Commission, to consider a permit. The public utilities commission granted its permit in April.
The next meeting of the land use commission will be Oct. 9 in Greenville, Hinkel said.
Some commissioners were concerned about the disturbance buried lines and their upkeep might cause to the areas, while others did not want to see overhead lines and questioned whether CMP could find an alternative route for its transmission infrastructure. Some of the poles and lines would be more than 70 feet tall and always visible above vegetation.
“Even with [screening the view with vegetation] along Moxie Pond, the lines will always be visible from Troutdale Road,” said Hinkel, referencing the part of the Appalachian Trail that the power lines would cross.
He and other commissioners questioned whether CMP knew about the protections on the land when they bought it. The protected zoning has been in place since 1978 and CMP bought the land in the past few years, Hinkel said.
At the heart of the discussions are commission-established zoning subdistricts, including the so-called P-RR recreation protection subdistrict, to protect important resources, including fisheries. Some of those are considered “significant primitive recreational areas” that are not accessible except by walking, ATV or private roads.
Thorn Dickinson, vice president for development at Avangrid, CMP’s parent, said, “We respect the determination of the [commission] that more time is required to duly consider all aspects of this project under their purview and await their decision accordingly.”
Opponents to CMP’s project lauded the delayed decision.
“We are encouraged by today’s decision to delay the consideration of the corridor permit. We appreciate that the [commission] appears to be listening to Mainers’ concerns,” said Sandi Howard, director of the opposition group Say NO to NECEC, and Thomas Saviello, a former state senator from Wilton, in a joint statement.
“They’re seeking more information about how the corridor would impact Maine, and we believe that the case is crystal clear: CMP’s corridor is bad for Maine’s environment, wildlife habitat, scenic character and economy,” they said.
Howard and Saviello earlier this month filed a citizen initiative with the Maine Attorney General with the goal of getting a referendum on the November 2020 ballot to reverse the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s permit for the project.