T5 R7 — For the last 40 years, Duane Hanson has made his home on the remote shores of Whipple Pond, accessible only by snowmobile and a short ride in a 6-foot-long aluminum boat through an overflowing brook in late April.

Duane Hanson stands on April 23 at the edge of Whipple Pond, where his 65-acre homestead is located in T5 R7. The proposed New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line would run along the opposite shore in the background. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

His cabin, several miles from the nearest paved road on a 65-acre homestead, is heated with a wood stove. Food is kept cold with ice cut from the pond and stored year-round under sawdust in an ice shed.

The only power line is the cord that runs from two solar panels on wooden poles to the cabin, where the energy from the sun is used to power lights inside.

But that could change soon as Hanson and his wife, Sally Kwan, grapple with plans by Central Maine Power and its parent company, Avangrid, to construct 53 miles of new transmission line through a corridor from Canada to The Forks in an area largely off the grid.

The $950 million New England Clean Energy Connect is part of a proposal sought by Massachusetts to bring more renewable energy into the state.

The controversial project has many in the remote regions of Somerset County — where a new corridor would cut through the heart of sparsely populated woodlands — saying this pristine region and the lives of its inhabitants would be fractured forever. A close look in recent weeks at the lives of some of these people reveal deep connections with a way of life that’s poised to be disturbed.

“This is not my exclusive view,” said Kaleb Jacob, a registered Maine guide who is also president of the Upper Enchanted Owners Road Association, a group of about 50 property owners in Upper Enchanted Township. “This is a place anyone could come and see a view like this. Don’t do this to this area, please. This is the last frontier. Why would you do this here?”

The new power line corridor would cross the gravel road Hanson and Kwan use to get to their cabin, a spot they’ve marked with bright pieces of tape and a sign that reads, “No CMP Powerline Corridor.”

They worry that, at about a quarter-mile away from their property, the 100-foot-tall steel poles would be visible above the tree line and that the project would have other effects on their drinking water and the wildlife in the area.

The project already gained a key approval last month from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, but opposition remains strong as it goes before the Department of Environmental Protection and the Land Use Planning Commission.

Also part of the debate over the area’s future is the question of what is the least harmful way to move forward in a society faced with increasing energy needs and demand for clean power.

Sally Kwan and Duane Hanson pose on April 23 at their summer kitchen outside their cabin on Whipple Pond. The couple heat their cabin with a wood stove and power their needs with two solar panels, but they worry that 100-foot-tall towers carrying power from Quebec to Massachusetts would overshadow them and the white pine trees that surround their property. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

CMP and project proponents say the project would reduce carbon emissions and help meet New England’s energy needs with hydropower from Canada. The new source of renewable power will help lower the cost of electricity in New England by putting more supply in the market.

“This is a project that’s about the environment,” said Thorn Dickinson, vice president of business development for Avangrid Networks. “It’s about protecting the future of the Maine woods for generations to come. We don’t pretend any large project doesn’t have some impact, but when you consider all the economic, ratepayer and environmental benefits, this is a real win for Maine.”

Some of the people who would be affected live off the grid and say that’s part of the appeal in the western Maine woods — a lack of power lines. They say the project isn’t needed in Maine and isn’t worth cutting a new transmission corridor across local landmarks such as Coburn Mountain and Rock Pond.

ENVIRONMENTAL SPLIT

In the Hanson and Kwan household, laundry is hung outside to dry. The couple cooks on a wood stove — one inside and one outside for the warmer summer months. A battery bank helps store energy from solar panels, and while they also have a generator, its use is mainly reserved for power tools.

They sell handmade brown ash and birch bark baskets and hand-forged knives through an online business, and they garden, hunt or fish for much of their food.

Sally Kwan fills an antique wood stove April 24 to heat the cabin and boil water at her and Duane Hanson’s homestead in the unorganized territory of Somerset County. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“Having giant hydro dams and giant 700-foot-tall windmills, that’s not going to fix things,” Hanson said. “First of all, people have to conserve. They have to go backwards somehow, which nobody will. They have to get ahold of themselves.

“When I was growing up, my mother hung the clothes on a line to dry. That’s one of the biggest power uses, is the electric dryer. It’s tremendous. And there are multiple things like that. People need to start to turn the lights off when they’re not in the room. All those things make a big difference if you multiply it by hundreds of millions of people.”

For about the last year, the project has divided residents sharply along the 145 miles the project would span on its way to Lewiston, where it would connect with an existing CMP substation to send the power to Massachusetts.

The path from Beattie Township in Franklin County, through central Somerset County and back into Franklin County was chosen to avoid other areas of environmental and scenic importance such as the Bigelow Preserve and Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway, which runs along U.S. Route 201, Dickinson said.

Joe Christopher, owner of Inn by the River, a whitewater rafting and recreation business in The Forks, supports the project on the basis it will help bring clean energy into New England.

There are also benefits to infrastructure in the area, such as the guarantee of snowmobile trails open to the public within the corridor, new property tax revenue and a $258 million benefits package that includes money to help Maine electricity customers lower their bills.

Last year CMP pledged another $22 million to mitigate the negative effects of the power line in the area via a new nonprofit group, Western Mountains & Rivers Corp., for which Christopher sits on the board of directors.

If the corridor is built, which he sees as likely, Christopher said there would be “zero impact” to his tourism-based business, especially since CMP agreed to run the power line under the scenic Kennebec Gorge.

But even Christopher admits there are unwanted effects.

“When I hear people testify (against the project), they’re probably the people I find most relevant,” he said of Hanson and Kwan. “The way they live is very unique and quite wonderful. I admire them a lot, but two people is not a society. I find it unfortunate, but there are impacts to a project this size and of this importance.”

Environmental groups in Maine are split on the idea. The Natural Resources Council of Maine and Sierra Club of Maine oppose the project.

The groups have cited the potential effect of construction and use of herbicides on water bodies and wildlife and raised questions about whether the project actually would reduce climate-changing pollution.

Others, such as the Conservation Law Foundation and the Acadia Center have endorsed it, saying the project would contribute to carbon reductions in the Northeast, reduce New England’s reliance on fossil fuels and reduce electricity prices in Maine.

‘HUMAN FOOTPRINT’

A few miles away from Whipple Pond on another homestead accessible only by snowmobile in late April, Zachary Boylan lives on 46 acres of hillside he’s hoping to turn into an organic farm.

A staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, Boylan said he thinks the power line comes down to politics: After similar proposals were rejected in Vermont and New Hampshire, it was only natural the project was sited to run through one of New England’s poorest congressional districts, which also supported Trump in 2016, he said.

Zachary Boylan comforts one of his four goats April 24 as he describes the effect the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line would have on his fledgling organic farm on the border of Hobbstown Township and Upper Enchanted Township. The power line would run along the ridge line behind Boylan and adjacent to his 46-acre organic farm, threatening the farm’s integrity. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“If this district didn’t vote for Trump, this power line would be dead,” Boylan said. “I honestly believe that. A lot of people do. There’s been a lot of cases I’ve encountered personally of legislation or projects intended as political retaliation.”

A 43-year old U.S. Army veteran, Boylan, originally from Newry, moved to the unorganized territory in Upper Enchanted Township four years ago.

He lives off the $6,000 in disability he gets from the Army and runs his household using solar panels, wood and propane.

Zachary Boylan’s frustration is evident April 24 as he describes the effect the New England Clean Energy Connect power line will have on his fledgling organic farm on the border of Hobbstown Township and Upper Enchanted Township. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

On a recent morning the only sounds that can be heard from Boylan’s homestead are his goats munching on foliage — they already tore through the siding on his cabin — and a nearby babbling brook.

There are no other traces of human life, although Boylan says at night he can see the red lights from wind turbines about 40 miles away in Canada.

Soon, he says, he also will see the proposed power line corridor.

Some people in the area have argued that the working forest isn’t as pristine as Boylan and others in the area make it out to be. If Boylan already can see windmills, what’s the harm in adding some power lines?

“That’s not an argument. ‘Oh, there’s a human footprint here, so screw it all.'” he said. “So somebody threw a single plastic bag in the ocean, so now we can use it as a dump? I don’t think so. That’s not how things work.”

Boylan also worries about the expansion that could happen within the project’s 300-foot right of way if it’s built.

For now, the company has said it plans to construct a 150-foot-wide corridor to be used for HVDC transmission line, which allows for the transmission of large amounts of power over long distance.

But in the future, Boylan said, he worries the corridor could be expanded to make way for AC transmission line, the kind used to transmit power short distances, such as to homes and businesses.

“If they eventually put in AC lines, there’s going to be power lines in here,” Boylan said. “Everybody’s going to have streetlights and regular electricity, and there’s not going to be any woods anymore. These woods are already barely in recovery now after all the logging that’s happened.”

‘THE LAST FRONTIER’

Boylan, Hanson and Kwan are some of the few year-round residents in an area so remote some of its communities are identified by a code of numbers and letters rather than names, but they’re not the only ones opposed to the project.

“I don’t know of one person in our road association who supports this,” said Jacob, the Upper Enchanted Owners Road Association president.

Jacob, a resident of New Hampshire, bought his camp off East Grace Pond Road about 12 years ago but was coming to the area long before that.

The fact that all of the properties in the area are off the grid is part of the appeal, he said, calling the region “the last frontier.”

Kaleb Jacob, a registered Maine guide, stands for a portrait April 24 near his cabin on Coburn Mountain overlooking Grace Pond, where the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line would be constructed. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

On a clear day from his camp — aptly named The Eagle’s Nest — he can see a panoramic view of the proposed power line’s path: from the ridge of Coburn Mountain, between Grace Pond and Attean Pond, down across the gravel Spencer Road (which provides access to the area’s roughly 180 camps and lots from U.S. Route 201) behind Whipple Pond and over toward Rock Pond, an area known locally for its brook trout fishing.

A registered Maine guide, Jacob also worries about the power line’s effect on fishing and wildlife in the area and what the implications are for tourism. Will cutting trees and using herbicides to keep growth down around the power line warm the temperature in Rock Pond and affect the brook trout?

Will forest fragmentation affect wildlife, such as the Canada jays Jacob feeds by hand on Spencer Road or the moose that wander near Grace Pond?

“People just keep going north when they see man-made stuff when they come here to get away from it all,” Jacob said. “Canada is a pretty great place too.”

He said he won’t sell his property if the line is built, but he knows of other camp owners who would.

As for Hanson and Kwan, living somewhere else isn’t an option.

“Where would anyone suggest we go that would be an equal kind of place?” Hanson said.