A sign on a Coburn Mountain snowmobile trail expressing opposition to CMP's proposed power line. Credit: Fred Bever | Maine Public

State environmental regulators opened a week of hearings today on Central Maine Power’s proposed 141-mile transmission line through western Maine.

Backers and critics are squaring off over whether the project would be “harmonious” with the surrounding ecosystems and economy, with an emphasis on the 53-mile corridor CMP wants to clearcut from Jackman through the Forks area.

Mark Goodwin, an environmental scientist hired by CMP, told the panel that the company would take numerous actions to contain impacts on ecosystems, in what he sees as previously fragmented territory.

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“Characterizations of western Maine as unfragmented forest are false,” Goodwin said. “This area is fragmented by a number of natural and manmade features, including rivers and streams, the cleared and mowed area along the length of the U.S. and Canada border, highways including Routes 6, 15, 16, 27 and 201, existing transmission lines,” and more, such as logging roads and logging operations.

But environmental groups — even some that are officially positioned as “neither for nor against” the project — say it would pass through an unfragmented area of global significance. Rob Wood is an energy projects analyst at the Nature Conservancy.

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“The Nature Conservancy’s science shows that this area is unique in the eastern United States for its high level of habitat connectivity and its high level of resilience to climate change,” Wood said. “Western Maine provides a key linkage for wildlife movement, especially for species that require mature forests and full canopy cover. And the region will become even more important over time.”

The conservancy and other groups say the state should require CMP to conserve tens of thousands of acres of forest elsewhere in the area to mitigate the transmission line’s disruptions to the environment. CMP has not responded to that request.

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The Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission will continue hearings throughout the week at the University of Maine Farmington campus.

A poll released today by the Natural Resources Council of Maine found that 65 percent of respondents opposed the controversial project and only 15 percent supporting. The telephone survey of 850 people also found Mainers had a high level of awareness of the project.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.