HALLOWELL — The Maine Public Utilities Commission heard hours of testimony Wednesday night from scores of people who wanted their voices heard about a proposal to run a 145-mile transmission line through western Maine.

The hearing started at 5 p.m. and about half of the 73 people who had registered to address the commission had testified by 8, with the majority of those speakers voicing concerns about the impact the project would have on the environment and tourism.

“Stay away from our wilderness,” said Sheryl Harth, a retired nurse from the Jackman area. “We have some of the most remote areas east of the Mississippi, and we want to preserve it for future generations.”

About 100 people had crowded into a conference room at the PUC by 5 p.m., while others watched the hours of testimony from an overflow room. The commission is considering approval of the New England Clean Energy Connect project being proposed by Central Maine Power Co. to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to the existing electric grid in Lewiston and then on to Massachusetts.

STRONG SENTIMENTS BOTH WAYS

Supporters of the project also spoke Wednesday night, touting the jobs the project would create during construction and the boost to tax revenue that CMP has estimated at $18 million annually.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque was among those who spoke in favor of the project, citing the tax revenue it will bring to neighboring Lewiston.

“The impact to our city is negligible, but it is significant what it will do for the western Maine economy, including our sister city of Lewiston,” said Levesque, adding that the Auburn City Council approved a resolution in support of the project, 6-1. “We recognize the city of Lewiston is in desperate need of the valuation this project will bring, so yes, I am in favor of it, as is a majority of the City Council and the residents of Auburn.”

Other proponents of the project talked about the 3,500 estimated jobs the project would generate during construction.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque tells the Public Utilities Commission that CMP’s transmission project will bring jobs and revenue to western Maine.

“Some people may consider these jobs temporary, but they’re also essential to Maine’s economy,” said Adam Mancini, director of the utility division for E.S. Boulos Co., an electrical contractor in Westbrook.

Project opponents testified Wednesday that it would have devastating effects on the environment, wildlife and tourism in western Maine.

“This will ruin our way of life,” said Tania Merette, who lives in Long Pond Township and sells real estate in the area. “I can tell you why people come and purchase land there. It’s the pristine nature, the wildlife and the night sky. It’s because of the view on Route 201, a national scenic byway. This will impact us.”

Merette said she is also a member of the Maine Snowmobile Association, but plans to rescind her membership after a letter was read Wednesday night in which Bob Myers, the MSA’s executive director, outlined his support for the project.

Myers, in an interview, said the MSA voted Tuesday to support the project, in part because the entire CMP corridor would be open for snowmobile use.

“In a broader picture, we deal with thousands of landowners, and CMP is a landowner that’s been doing things the right way,” Myers said. “This is going to bring some terrific things to the area, and this is a way for us to thank them for being a good partner over the years.”

DOUBTS ABOUT CLIMATE BENEFITS

The hearing came hours after a report commissioned by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sierra Club and the Maine Renewable Energy Association was released, saying the project would not reduce carbon pollution and would do nothing to offset climate change.

“Climate change is something we should all be concerned about,” said Monica McCarty, of Rome, who called on the PUC to conduct an independent review of the effect the clear-cutting associated with the NECEC project would have on carbon emissions and whether that impact would be offset by the project’s benefits.

“In order to do this project, we have to clear-cut 2,200 acres of Maine forest that right now is mitigating the amount of carbon in the atmosphere,” McCarty said. “It does not make sense.”

The NECEC project, commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, would include 51 miles of new corridor from Beattie Township in Franklin County to The Forks in Somerset County, and another 94 miles of new transmission line in an existing CMP corridor leading to Lewiston.

In addition to PUC approval, the project also needs other state and municipal permits, as well as approval from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Aviation Administration.

CMP has estimated the permitting process would be completed by 2019 and, if approved, construction would be finished by 2022.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: rachel_ohm