Also Says CMP Permit Application Does Not Examine Less-damaging Alternatives, Such as Burial Along Existing Roads
NRCM news release
As Central Maine Power’s (CMP) controversial transmission line proposal continues to face growing scrutiny and opposition from Maine people and towns, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just issued a strongly worded letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regarding process flaws and major issues in CMP’s permit application.
The EPA calls on the USACE to start its permitting process over, and to focus more attention on the serious impacts that CMP’s project would have on the environment and CMP’s failure to fully examine less-damaging alternatives, including burying the line along existing roads.
“EPA’s letter confirms what we have been saying about the CMP transmission corridor for nearly two years,” said Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The corridor would cause serious harm to Maine’s clean water, fisheries, and wildlife. CMP failed to look at less-damaging alternatives, such as burying the corridor along Route 201, and its proposed compensation for the corridor’s environmental damage is woefully inadequate.”
“CMP is rushing this process and not giving Maine people the information they need to understand the damage it would cause,” continued Bennett. “And now EPA says that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is rushing the process also. This permitting process needs to be slowed down, and all alternative routes and environmental impacts need a thorough analysis.”
In an April 25, 2019, letter to Robert Desista of the USACE New England Division, EPA stated it had major concerns with the USACE permitting process thus far and with the CMP application. EPA also says the USACE has failed to provide adequate information to the public, and recommends that the process start over.
EPA stated that USACE had acted prematurely starting the permitting process on March 26 and asking for the public to submit comments by April 25:
Based on the limited project information available at the time of public notice issuance (including the absence of a complete, up-to-date Section 404 application with a comprehensive alternatives analysis), the lack of time to review recently submitted project information, and the fact that information presented at the state hearings will not be available until after the close of the public notice period, we believe the public notice was issued prematurely. P. 3 (emphasis added)
As the lead Federal agency for the review of the project under NEPA and for CWA Section 404 permitting, USACE holds the primary responsibility to coordinate both in a predictable and transparent manner. The lack of an organized, consolidated presentation of complete project information to support the CWA Section 404 permit evaluation, combined with the premature public notice and inadequate time for review of current and anticipated additional information is inconsistent with those goals. P. 3 (emphasis added)
One way to address the deficiency of important project information available during the comment period would be for the USACE to issue a revised public notice for the project. We recommend that the USACE take this step and that the revised public notice specifically reference the USACE responsibilities pursuant to the CWA Section 404 process as the lead federal Agency under the National Environmental Policy Act. P. 4
EPA also raised concerns about the serious impacts the CMP corridor would have on have on Maine’s environment, specifically:
The proposed project will result in considerable conversion of forested wetland cover, both in the new alignment areas and along the widening of existing corridors. Due to the nature of the maintained corridor, this forested wetland conversion will be permanent. Conversion of forested wetlands to emergent and scrub-shrub systems can have major ecological impacts by changing habitat types, community structure, and wetland functions and services. P. 5
Construction, operation and maintenance of the new transmission lines along Segment 1 between the Canadian border and the Forks would result in extensive secondary impacts. For example, tree clearing, especially along linear corridors would fragment forests which would result in changes in the vegetation community, reduction of interior forest available to area-sensitive species, increased nest predation and parasitism in forested areas adjacent to the clearing. As a result, secondary impacts would extend well beyond the project footprint, resulting in a loss of biodiversity. P. 5 (emphasis added)
EPA describes CMP’s failure to examine alternatives to the corridor that are less damaging to the environment, including burying it along existing roads, such as Route 201:
Alternatives to the proposed action that would cause less impact to the aquatic ecosystem have not been fully explored. For example, approximately 54 miles of the proposed alternative, identified as Segment 1, is proposed on a new alignment between that Canadian border and the Forks. Substantial aquatic impacts and fragmentation of forest resources would occur in this segment. Direct and Secondary impacts to many streams and wetlands could be avoided and minimized by practicable alternative project designs including, amongst other design features, modification of the proposed route and underground installation of transmission lines…Underground installation of transmission lines, especially if located adjacent to or within existing roadway, railway or other previously disturbed linear corridors, would typically result in less adverse impact to the aquatic ecosystem, and to the adjacent supporting terrestrial habitat. Pp. 6-7 (emphasis added)
EPA notes that the State’s mitigation proposals for the CMP corridor’s impacts would not meet federal guidelines:
The proposed project would result in removal of over 11 linear miles of riparian vegetation along streams and brooks. Some of that loss requires mitigation under NEDCEP and MDIFW rules. However, the USACE also has mitigation guidance for secondary impacts to streams…In addition to meeting state mitigation requirement, the compensatory mitigation plan should also comport with the USACE Compensatory Mitigation Guidance. P. 8 (emphasis added)
Please contact Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist, with questions at (207) 430-0116.