Helena Kelley, 11, of Portland, speaks out against the CMP project at a public hearing Wednesday night in Farmington. Credit: Fred Bever | Maine Public

State environmental regulators took public testimony last night on Central Maine Power’s proposed 145-mile transmission line through western Maine, including 53 miles of newly cleared corridor through the western Maine forest.

More than 300 people attended the hearing at the University of Maine’s Farmington campus. Project opponents turned out in force, but a number of supporters spoke as well.

Under a contract with Massachusetts utilities, the project would bring renewable energy from Canadian dams into this region’s electricity grid.

Christopher Ayres of Pownal, who described himself as an avid outdoorsman and photographer, said he favors the project because it represents a significant down payment on the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Already in my backyard, on the coast of Maine and around Baxter Park, which I routinely visit, I see first-hand undeniable changes in bird migration patterns and their food sources, such as insects. It is clear to me that global climate change is the existential crisis of our time,” he said.

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But many see the project itself as the imminent threat. Daryl Wood of New Sharon said he often visits the area where the new powerline would be constructed to hunt, snowmobile and fish what is the nation’s largest population of native brook trout.

“I travel to that area for the sense of wilderness that comes from not seeing manmade structures,” Wood said. “I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that experience is priceless, and when it is gone it is gone forever. In my opinion this project negatively impacts the scenic character of the view shed, and it will negatively affect the experience of visitors and harm small businesses in the area.”

The state’s Land Use Planning Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection are trying to determine the reasonableness of the project’s potential effects on habitat, water resources, scenic values and potential mitigation — and whether there is a reasonable alternative.

Credit: Fred Bever | Maine Public

Some called for the line to be buried, or placed closer to existing roads. Suzanne Theberge of Jay read a statement on behalf of Peter Theberge, taking aim at the powerful interests and governments behind the project, including CMP’s owner, Spain-based Iberdrola.

“While the vast majority of benefits go to Quebec, Spain and Massachusetts, Maine is left with a division between the residents of the state and its government and agencies bigger than any corridor will be,” she read. “That is, of course, in addition to the corridor itself. Especially when considering future expansions of this corridor, now is the time to reject this proposal.”

[Environmental regulators launch hearings on $1B CMP project]

Several project supporters urged the panel to accept the environmental value of the low-polluting hydro-electricity from Canada as vital to slowing climate change. And Kimberly Lindlof, director of the mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce said that was part of protecting the region’s economy.

“It will be very good for the environment as well as the economy,” Lindlof said. “After all, our robust tourism industry calls on us to maintain clean air, healthy water bodies and seasonal changes that support snowmobiling as well as fishing and hunting. The land on which CMP plans to develop the new corridor is commercial forest with hundreds of miles of logging roads that currently exist.”

The hearings continue through the end of the week, with another for the general public scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the University of Maine Farmington.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.