WEST FORKS, Maine — Dozens of workers braved temperatures in the low teens in rural Somerset County Tuesday morning, anticipating the first pole to be hoisted for a $1 billion hydropower project nearby.
The 100-foot-tall pole near Moxie Pond is part of the New England Clean Energy Connect, a 145-mile project of a Central Maine Power-affiliated company and Hydro-Quebec to bring up to 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from the Canadian border to a converter station in Lewiston.
The corridor has been embroiled in controversy for the past three years as environmentalists question its benefit to Maine and potential harm to the environment. It has been the target of two referendum efforts and multiple lawsuits, most recently one that halted construction on the last 53 miles of the corridor until at least mid-February.
But proponents cite benefits including promises of up to 1,600 jobs during its 30-month construction and $200 million in upgrades to Maine’s energy grid. Some 200 Mainers already have been hired, according to NECEC Transmission, the company set up to run the corridor, which is scheduled to be completed in the second quarter of 2023.
In April, CMP and its partners awarded $300 million in contracts to build the project’s infrastructure to Pittsfield-based Cianbro in a joint venture with Irby Construction of Mississippi, Sargent Electric of Pennsylvania and Northern Clearing Inc. of Wisconsin. The project will include union and non-union labor with average pay of $38 per hour plus benefits, said Tim Burgess, IBEW 104 assistant business manager.
Tuesday’s pole installation occurred several weeks after the injunction stopping work from the Forks to the Canadian border. The injunction came on the same day that the project received its final major permit, and Burgess said about 50 IBEW 104 workers were ready to start work. They were shifted to an adjacent section of the corridor.
Since that part of the corridor is new infrastructure and needs the most work, the delay prompted Burgess last week to inform 289 job applicants from Maine and another 111 from across the country about the injunction and why they hadn’t heard back yet.
Opponents of the corridor slammed the installation. In a Tuesday statement, Sandra Howard, a spokesperson for No CMP Corridor, said the utility “decided to bull ahead prematurely” with the project to create the impression that there is no avenue left to stop it.
“This is yet another shining example of this foreign-owned company’s disdain for everyday Mainers,” she said.
For others, the corridor has opened up a path back to Maine. Nick Achorn, manager of the project, said he had to move out-of-state for his career after graduating from the University of Maine. The Bangor native said working on the project allowed him to bring his family back to Maine from work at an engineering firm in Massachusetts.
Joe Christopher, owner of Inn by the River in The Forks, said the construction project is bringing an influx of workers staying at inns and eating at restaurants. Peter Glidden, owner of Glidden Mat, said his company has been straight out building mats for the project for months. In February 2020 Maine Timber Mats, Oxford Timber and Glidden Mat shared a $12 million contract to construct portable mats on which trucks could drive for the project.
“This was a boost to our business in 2020,” Glidden said.