Commissioners said they were not influenced by a complaint about a flier distributed by CMP in Farmington.
by Rachel Ohm, Central Maine newspapers
Portland Press Herald news story
FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners voted to revoke support for a proposed transmission line through western Maine on Tuesday after expressing concerns over the permitting process for New England Clean Energy Connect and hearing a complaint about a flier encouraging Farmington residents to support the project.
“I know back in October we supported this (Central Maine Power) line, but I think a lot of towns are now removing that support or staying neutral,” said District 1 Commissioner Terry Brann.
“We’ve found out there was a lot of money offered in Massachusetts and Vermont, but nothing in Maine, so unless CMP comes up with another angle, I personally would like to withdraw our support and just stay neutral.”
The plan calls for the construction of a 145-mile transmission line to deliver hydro power from Quebec to markets in Massachusetts. The project has been fraught with controversy since CMP won the $1 billion bid to build the line, which would cross forests and mostly undeveloped land in western Maine.
District 2 Commissioner Charlie Webster and District 3 Commissioner Clyde Barker also voted to support rescinding support, making the commission the latest entity to rescind support or oppose the project.
Others include Jackman, Moose River, West Forks, The Forks, Caratunk, Embden, Wilton and Alna.
The decision Tuesday came after commissioners were presented with an email from the Greater Franklin Development Council in which Executive Director Charlie Woodworth said a flier recently distributed by Central Maine Power was misleading and contained a statement attributed to GFDC that it did not write.
The flier, which was distributed to Farmington residents over the weekend and states it was paid for by NECEC, encourages them to vote in support of the project at the annual Town Meeting Monday.
“Facts and statements noted on this flier are intentionally misleading,” Woodworth wrote in the email, which was read aloud at Tuesday’s meeting. “The author of this flier has written statements and assigned organization names to these statements inferring that the listed organizations actually made these statements. This is not the case.”
Woodworth, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment.
A letter written on GFDC letterhead by its previous executive director, Alison Hagerstrom, in July 2017 and posted on the NECEC website does contain the language used in the flier. John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP, said that letter was the source of the information on the flier.
“Looking at the (email) from Mr. Woodworth, we are distressed he would take that position without even maybe taking the time to call us and ask where that quote came from, because it is in fact a quote from a letter provided by the economic development commission,” Carroll said.
He also said it’s concerning commissioners may have revoked their support for the project based at least in part on Woodworth’s complaint, though Webster said later in the day Tuesday that wasn’t the case.
“The flier didn’t do it at all,” Webster said. “What happened was when they came to us we weren’t aware when we gave (support) that they were willing to support the state financially or the county financially. It’s probably our own fault. If we had known at the time we had an opportunity to lower electricity rates or something, we might have had a different opinion.”
Last month, Gov. Janet Mills threw her support behind the controversial project after CMP announced plans to offer $258 million in benefits over 40 years, including $5 million for economic development in Franklin County, $1 million in scholarships at the University of Maine at Farmington and $4 million for vocational schools, scholarships and math and science training in Franklin and Somerset counties.
But Webster said it would have been preferable for CMP to offer lower rates for electricity ratepayers in Maine in exchange for the project being built.
“I don’t like $1 million for this group, $500,000 for another group,” he said. “That’s just buying off folks. To me, if we think it’s good public policy to lower rates for everyone in exchange for this coming through the state, that’s the only way to do it.”
Sandra Howard, a spokeswoman for the group Say NO to NECEC, which is opposed to the project, praised commissioners’ decision in an email Tuesday.
“They did exactly what elected officials should do: they looked at all the information about how bad this corridor would be, they listened to their voters’ overwhelming opposition to the corridor, and they decided that the corridor is a bad deal for Maine,” Howard wrote. “I urge all of our members to thank the commissioners for making a good decision that will help protect Maine’s environment and economy for generations to come.”
Like Webster, Brann said the flier didn’t have anything to do with his decision to revoke support. Despite some significant benefits to the area — the town of Farmington is expected to receive $436,183 in new annual tax payments from the project — Brann said he’s heard from many people who are opposed.
“I haven’t had one person come to me and say this is a good deal for Franklin County,” he said. “So many citizens are opposed.”
Residents in Farmington are scheduled to vote Monday to authorize the Board of Selectmen to send a letter to the Maine Public Utilities Commission stating whether they support, don’t support or have no position on the project.
So-called “intervenors” in the case, which have been approved by the Maine PUC as being directly impacted by the project, have the right to file letters or the results of votes to be considered by the agency as it makes a decision on permitting. Both the Franklin County commissioners and town of Farmington are intervenors.
However, Harry Lanphear, a spokesman for the PUC, said there’s no guarantee that just because a town or other entity votes to support or not support the project that it will have the final say on whether it’s built in that community.
“Any input we get will certainly be considered by the commission,” Lanphear said, adding that others who are not intervenors can submit public comments that will be considered in an overall decision. “But there’s no guarantee of what might happen.”