Residents of Chesterville won’t get an opportunity to vote on a moratorium aimed at delaying Central Maine Power Co.’s plan to build an electric transmission line through the Franklin County town.

Selectmen opted Thursday night to take no action on a request from former Republican state Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton to schedule a special town meeting vote on the moratorium, which, if approved, would have remained in effect for 180 days. Saviello opposes CMP’s transmission line from Quebec.

He urged the board to give residents a chance to vote on a moratorium, pointing out that Chesterville residents in July voted 100-5 to oppose CMP’s New England Clean Energy Connect Project.

Saviello said a moratorium would give the Planning Board the time it needs to develop rules regulating the transmission line’s construction.

“The purpose of this (moratorium) is not to stop them,” Saviello said. “If I were in your position, I’d at least want to give voters the chance to express their opinion.”

“If we lose what we have, we will never be able to get it back,” added Megan Heikkinen, who said she was born and raised in Chesterville. Heikkinen is a member of the citizens group that opposes the CMP corridor.

But Town Clerk Pam Adams urged the board to proceed with caution. Adams said a moratorium needs to be legally justified. She said the board should consult with the town attorney or the Maine Municipal Association before making any decisions on holding a vote.

One selectman said he might be willing to schedule a special town meeting vote if residents were able to gather enough signatures to ask for a moratorium referendum.

Tony Buxton, a lawyer who heads the Preti Flaherty energy practice, said the Maine Public Utilities Commission has the power to override a local decision to deny a permit for a project such as the utility corridor. He also represents a group of industrial electricity users, which has endorsed the CMP project.

Under state law, if the PUC decides that a project “is reasonably necessary for public welfare and convenience,” it could exempt the utility from a local denial of a permit.

The $950 million project involves building a 145-mile transmission line to deliver power generated by Hydro-Quebec  to users in Massachusetts. The line through Maine would begin in Beattie Township in Franklin County and extend east and south into Somerset, Androscoggin and Cumberland counties.

Under CMP’s proposal, one-sixth of a mile, or about 880 feet of the transmission line, would pass through Chesterville.

This story was updated at 11 a.m. Sept. 13 to clarify Tony Buxton’s title.


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