THE FORKS, Maine – The drive south on Troutdale Road along the west shore of Moxie Pond runs through the heart of what Denise Rancourt loves most about this remote part of Somerset County.
Rancourt lives about 3 km from the single-track road now populated with mostly snow-covered seasonal houses. She and her husband are here year round, snowmobiling in the winter, boating in the summer, hunting in the fall and enjoying the peace and quiet. Something new emerged right in front of their property last Tuesday: the first pole of the controversial Central Maine Power corridor project.
In recent weeks, trucks and equipment have passed the Rancourt house to clear an additional 75 feet for the new project in an existing electrical corridor. The traffic was noisy, she said, and disrupted the movement of snowmobilers and the small number of year-round residents at the 23-person plantation in 2019. She didn’t expect the first pole be up before next year, and seeing him took her by surprise.
“We were pretty devastated,” said Rancourt, a vocal opponent of the hallway who is a clerk, treasurer and tax collector in the West Forks border region. “I just feel like every special part of this area is going to be overrun with power lines and it’s very sad.”
As the project kicks off, emotions remain high in The Forks and neighboring West Forks over the 145-mile power line called New England Clean Energy Connect. The cities lie at the epicenter of the project’s most contested section, where a final 53-mile segment of the project will cross areas with no existing power lines. The project will bring Quebec hydroelectricity to the regional grid.
A court injunction temporarily prohibits working in this segment, which stretches from part of The Forks to Beattie Township on the Canadian border. However, the north end of Moxie Pond where Rancourt lives is in a southern segment under development up to the Wyman hydroelectric dam in Moscow. A second post was raised in Moscow on Thursday, a spokesperson for CMP parent Avangrid said.
Others, like Joe Christopher, hailed the start of construction, saying it brought new business to inns, restaurants, gas stations and other stores in the remote area during a stalled economy.
There was little snow this winter, so the extra activity of the corridor workers helped, Christopher said. Hallway crew wearing reflective orange vests stood out among the hostel lunch crowd the day the pole was installed. In the long term, Christopher sees the project as a potential broadband aid, which will be threaded along electric wires and will be available to cities in certain areas.
“The project is a good boost for us,” he said.
Just a mile from the inn, Pete Dostie, owner of Hawk’s Nest Lodge, sees no increase in business. He said he was concerned about the last 53 miles of the project and its effect on the woods. Dostie, who is also an appraiser for West Forks, signed an affidavit as part of the injunction offer.
“We have 6,000 guests a year and a lot of those people go to the top of Coburn Mountain, and now it’s going to look like hell,” Dostie said of the popular snowmobile trail. “No one is happy about it.”
This includes Clifford Stevens, owner of Moxie Outdoor Adventures on Troutdale Road, who worries about losing repeat customers as the new poles will be visible when they hike, snowmobile or explore on ATVs. It is difficult to attract such loyal customers, who like to be in nature and in an area without internet and cell phones, he said.
“There will be customers who choose to go elsewhere because it won’t be the same,” he said.
Stevens was not part of Western Mountains & Rivers Corp., a nonprofit that sparked controversy by signing a deal in June 2018 with the CMP to compensate for the negative effects of the project. Christopher, who also owns the Three Rivers Whitewater rafting business in West Forks, was part of the group.
Initially, the agreement called for the CMP to provide $ 22 million for conservation mitigation and nature-based tourism. But that would drop to $ 5 million if CMP were to bury lines near the Kennebec River Gorge, which the company agreed to do in October 2018. The protocol also offered companies that supported it the opportunity to purchase the land they are currently leasing to CMP.
Strong opposing views in a small community resulted in uncomfortable conversations in The Forks and West Forks, the latter of which has 58 residents. Rancourt is also fighting the corridor and is among those who have collected signatures for a second referendum candidacy in 2021 to stop its construction.
“At this point, everyone respects each other’s positions on the project,” she said, noting that interactions with hallway workers have been polite. “They are really just doing their job,” she said.
NECEC project manager Adam Desrosiers said he hoped people seeing the work underway would help lessen opposition. Work on the project will take place in winter along Troutdale Road, and the remaining poles and wires will be installed next winter, he said.
The existing 150-foot-wide corridor, made up of 50-foot-high wooden poles, was widened an additional 75 feet to accommodate the new DC power lines for the NECEC project. The Forks and West Forks will have 87 posts combined, while the entire project will span 829 posts.
The posts, which at 100 feet high and 16 feet deep are double the height of the wooden posts, are made of “weathered” steel, which develops a rusty brown patina over time that Desrosiers says should. blend in better with the environment than regular steel. .
So far, NECEC has permits for poles and wires in the cities of Moscow, Starks and Farmington, Desrosiers said through a company spokesperson. The Forks is regulated by the Land Use Planning Commission of Maine, which has approved the NECEC project, and does not require additional municipal permits. The project also has a permit for a converter station in Lewiston. The corridor also has the necessary state and federal permits.
Rancourt said she couldn’t see the new pole from her house because it faces the other direction and is obscured by trees. But she is sure that additional height will be visible from Moxie Pond and from Mosquito Mountain, a popular hiking destination nearby, so she intends to continue fighting the project.
“There are companies taking advantage of it, but it’s only temporary,” she said.