Red flashing lights on new Central Maine Power transmission towers in Woolwich and Bath are seen from Brown’s Point Road in Bowdoinham. Neighbors hope the disruptive flashing can be mitigated, perhaps by radar that will turn the lights on only when a plane is flying in the area. Darcie Moore/The Times Record

WOOLWICH — When bright red lights began flashing on new Central Maine Power transmission towers near the mouth of the Kennebec River, neighbors within view were taken by surprise.

Neighbors said they were never told the lights, which flash white during the day but red at night, would be installed. Fog and clouds and the reflection off the water make the flashes of red through the night more prominent. One tower sits in Bath and the other on Chop Point School property, carrying lines across Chops Point. The lights can be seen from Merrymeeting Bay, and as far away as Pleasant Point in Topsham and Brown’s Point Road in Bowdoinham.

“First we noticed the white lights,” said Sarah Lambertson of Woolwich. She lives close to the towers on Temple Road.

“One day we looked out and my husband goes, ‘What are those white lights?’ ” Lambertson said. “The sunset had just come down and (the lights) turned red. We said, ‘This is not OK.’ ”

The two previous transmission towers on either side of the river were more than 80 years old and needed to be replaced, said CMP spokeswoman Catherine Hartnett. The original 195-foot towers were permitted decades ago when the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t require lights to warn passing aircraft. The old towers were replaced with 240-foot towers that had to meet FAA regulations, Hartnett said.

There are small regional airports in the area, including in Brunswick, Wiscasset and Augusta.

“It’s not a choice we made. It’s a law,” Hartnett said.

Neighbors question whether a less obtrusive alternative might be possible.

“It’s one of the most egregious things I’ve ever seen occur in a nature-residential setting such as Merrymeeting Bay,” said Curt Fish of Woolwich.

He called the towers and blinking lights an excessive solution to a nonexistent problem.

“These have like, 24 lights – all blinking LED lights which are ridiculously bright, and they make the bay look like a discotheque or a crime scene depending on how you come to it,” he said.

He was among three neighbors who lodged concerns with the Woolwich Board of Selectmen, who contacted CMP about the lights. The selectmen and other residents also contacted their state representatives.

According to a July 12 letter from CMP outreach specialist Deborah Turcotte to Woolwich selectwoman and Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, the utility is working on a solution to mitigate the impact of the new aircraft safety lights.

“Central Maine Power plans to seek approval from the FAA to install a radar system that will activate the tower lights only if an aircraft is in the area,” Turcotte wrote.

Hartnett said CMP has tried to be proactive in talking to groups of neighbors within sight of the lights.

“We’ve tried to come to an understanding in which we have approached the FAA to see if there’s any way we can mitigate those impacts without being in violation of our permit,” she said.  “It’s a somewhat lengthy process.”

She cautioned Monday that a fix won’t happen quickly.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said it would have been nice if CMP had looked into lighting alternatives before installing the new towers.

“I have certainly heard from scores of individuals about it,” he said. “It is very disruptive to the nighttime beauty of the bay. A lot of folks have concerns about the impact on the wildlife, the avian wildlife on the bay which is globally renowned.”

Until a fix is found, residents will have to bear the light show.

“I’m hopeful that what CMP is doing is going to work so I’m trying to tell myself they’re temporary, but they’re very visible from everywhere in our house,” said Lambertson.

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