Maine utility corridor 75% cleared of trees as vote looms

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Workers have cleared trees from three-quarters of a proposed $1 billion power line route ahead of next month’s referendum on the conduit for Canadian hydropower to reach the New England grid.

The project is already permitted and construction has been underway for the past nine months, even as supporters and opponents battle ahead of the Nov. 2 vote.

So far, a path has been cut through the woods along 108 of the 145-mile route (175 of 233 kilometers), officials said, including more than half of a new 53-mile (85-kilometer) corridor that stretches from the Canadian border to West Forks.

If Mainers reject the project, it’s going to be difficult to put toothpaste back into the tube. And there will be further litigation.

Anya Fletcher from Environment Maine, which opposes the power line, said it’s unclear how the matter might ultimately play out in the courts. But it’s important for people to vote nonetheless.

“This vote will not be the end of it. But if people vote, then at the very least, Maine people will have spoken,” Fletcher said.

The project, funded by Massachusetts ratepayers to meet that state’s clean energy goals, would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid.

Supporters say the renewable energy will stabilize or reduce electric rates across New England, while removing 3.6 million metric tons of carbon emissions from the environment each year.

Critics say the project would destroy the character of the woods. They also say environmental gains are overstated and that the project would stymie smaller, homegrown solar and wind power projects.

Construction is allowed to proceed on the entire length of the corridor except for a 1-mile, leased section from the state that’s in dispute.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing on the leased section Tuesday.

An Oct. 4 filing with the DEP indicates Avangrid, the parent of Central Maine Power, already has spent $350 million on the project.

If the DEP suspends the license it granted for the project, then the delay could add up to a year and $67 million during the appeal.

Depending on the outcome, Avangrid could give up and decommission the project, or change the route at added expense.

Waterville resident Chris Hartsock, who’s been employed by Northern Clearing Inc. for months on the project, said he doesn’t like the way opponents are framing the project as benefiting only Massachusetts.

That overlooks the carbon removed from the environment as well as high speed internet and other benefits included in $258 million in incentives for Maine.

That’s not to mention the hundreds of jobs, mostly of which are filled by Mainers like himself working on the project.

“I don’t think it’s right to discount that — like those jobs don’t matter. Because they do. These are Maine families,” he said.

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