Poles went up at an existing corridor near The Forks this week, but that doesn't mean everyone's happy.
The New England Clean Energy Connect is a 145-mile electricity transmission corridor. Poles went up despite the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delaying the construction of a new 53-mile section. The New England Clean Energy Connect, which would be fully funded by Massachusetts customers, runs from Mount Beattie Township on the Canadian border through Lewiston.
Construction on the electricity transmission corridor, also know as the CMP Corridor, is technically halted due to legal action. However, workers began installing 829 steel poles on an existing corridor that is a part of the overall project earlier this week. According to a Central Maine Power spokesperson, 380 people are working on the project, including 275 Mainers. The court injunction holds up the first section of the project, but work continues in the second and third sections. The project is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2023.
Russell Walters, president of Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort in The Forks, supports the project.
“I’ve certainly noticed increased activity, but haven’t seen any immediate impacts myself,” he said. “I’m happy to see the project get its start, and hopefully we’ll see the benefits of the renewable power. Time will tell.”
Ben Towle, owner of Maine Outdoor Sports in Caratunk, said he understands everyone’s concerns. His business manages the recreation clubs in the area and has a longtime relationship with Central Maine Power.
“Through this process we’ve had a lot of talks about improving the trail systems,” Towle said. “I have no personal issues with the project.”
Workers connect a section of the first pole of Central Maine Power’s hydropower transmission corridor Tuesday near The Forks. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty
According to a news release from the New England Clean Energy Connect, the workers are a mix of union and non-union laborers receiving an average salary of $38 per hour and other benefits. The spokesperson wrote in an email that those working on the project are stimulating the local economy, something that Towle also highlighted.
Workers “are eating at local restaurants and buying gas at gas stations and convenience stores,” the spokesperson wrote. “Some of the workers are traveling from their homes, while others are staying at local inns while doing the work.”
The New England Energy Connect will provide up to 1,200 megawatts of hydropower.
In August, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected a citizens’ initiative to propose a referendum on the corridor.
Elizabeth Caruso, the first selectman in the nearby town of Caratunk, said there is an “outrage” among locals. Caruso was an intervener in the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utilities Commission proceedings. Although the year-round town populations in the area are under 100, there is a huge tourist population.
“There are thousands of snowmobilers, thousands of visitors that come to the area that they are trying to force this corridor in,” Caruso said. “There are thousands of vacation homeowners in the area right where they are clearing and forcing poles up, knowing full well all of the local communities that have voted oppose this project.”
Caruso and others expressed concern about the height of the poles. Caruso said the average tree size along Moxie Pond is 60 feet tall and the poles dwarf the trees. She is in contact with the Maine DEP.
Denise Rancourt, the town clerk in West Forks Plantation who was with Dostie for the weekly excursion, said first pole went up across the street from her house. She was of the understanding the poles would be low profile, but she’s not sure they are.
“We’ve gotten a pretty good look at it,” Rancourt said. “It’s pretty ugly.”
At the October Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast, Thorn Dickinson said the corridor will provide power equal to 80% of Maine’s full need and 10% of New England’s power load. The CEO and president of NECEC Transmission LLC , Dickinson said the project will bring in $1 billion in jobs, taxes and other benefits to Maine by 2027.
“For a project that has made so much noise in the state, I did not expect that to happen when we began,” Dickinson said at the breakfast. “It’s an idea we felt very good about. For this specific project, we were very excited about the opportunity once we started to move forward.”
David Neddeau, who co-owns Magic Falls Rafting Company in West Forks Plantation, is currently at his home in Flagler Beach, Florida. Although he’s been south since October and has not followed the issue closely, he remains in his position against the corridor.
“At the very beginning, I was adamantly against it,” Neddeau said. “I thought it was a bad deal for the state of Maine, especially as a river guide and owning a river business, I thought it would be terrible to mess up that beautiful, pristine place.”
AUTHOR: Greg Levinsky