Central Maine Power has submitted a last-minute request to change the route of a proposed electric transmission line through western Maine to avoid a remote pond, a move that will likely delay permitting for the controversial project.

The power company wants to reopen its application and amend its 145-mile power line to skirt a special protected area around Beattie Pond, in northern Franklin County near the Canadian border. Land-use regulators stalemated on a key vote for the power line last week because of concern about impact to the pond.

Central Maine Power previously testified that it was unable to secure a crossing south of the pond through a tract called Merrill Strip because the landowner’s asking price was 50 times fair market value.

But late last month, the company obtained a mile-long, 150-foot wide power corridor easement with owner Bayroot LLC and Wagner Forest Management, a New Hampshire company that oversees the land. Bayroot, a private investment company owned by Yale University, owns hundreds of thousands of acres of Maine woodland. According to records at the Franklin County Registry of Deeds, the easement was purchased for “$1 cash and other considerations.” “Other considerations” was not explained in the filing.

“We closed on that piece of property at the end of August and since then have conducted studies and very recently have concluded that Merrill Strip is a viable alternative,” to the route regulators are now considering, said Thorn Dickinson, vice president of business development at Avangrid, CMP’s parent company. He declined to elaborate on Bayroot’s compensation for the deal.

In its filing with regulators, CMP estimated the alternative route would increase the project’s cost by $950,000.

CMP hopes an alternate route that avoids Beattie Pond will satisfy members of the Land Use Planning Commission who were against authorizing the project because of its effect on the protected area.

“We think this change will provide many benefits of a better route and address many concerns about the impacts discussed last week at the Land Use Planning Commission,” Dickinson said.

Sandi Howard, director of Say No to NECEC, one of the groups opposing the project, asked regulators to carefully vet CMP’s amended site application and allow public testimony on the proposal, in a written statement.

“We urge regulators to look with extreme skepticism at this new plan concocted on the fly by a company with such a terrible record. Regulators have to understand people of Maine do not want this project, and as public servants charged with protecting our state, Mainers expect and deserve these public servants to step in,” Howard said.

Representatives for Wagner Forest Management did not respond to multiple interview requests this week. In response to an email asking why the proposed corridor land was initially so expensive, Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart said the university does not discuss its investments.

It is unclear how state regulators intend to proceed with CMP’s revised application. The Department of Environmental Protection was expected to decide whether to grant a permit for the project by early November, but altering the plan will likely push that date back.

“We need to review the request and all the additional information submitted before we can determine next steps in the process,” said department spokesman David Madore. “It certainly will delay the timing of DEP’s decision, how long has yet to be determined.”

The transmission line, called New England Clean Energy Connect, is intended to bring Quebec hydropower through Maine to Massachusetts, to boost that state’s renewable energy sources.

CMP says the line will benefit Maine with construction jobs, electricity costs and improved tax bases. The company has also proposed a $258 million payment over 40 years to help low-income Mainers pay electric bills and $22 million for local economic development. Democrat Gov. Janet Mills supports the project.

But fierce opposition from environmentalists, concerned locals and competing energy companies has dogged the plan since inception. Many are concerned about the impact on tourism, recreation and lifestyle in the western Maine wilderness. Most of the corridor would run along an expanded existing power line, but CMP proposes about 54 miles of new construction and clearing in undeveloped woodland.

The land-use commission regulates development in Maine’s unorganized territories. The power company’s transmission line is allowed in most of the unorganized areas it passes, but needs special permission in three parts – the Kennebec River Gorge, the Appalachian Trail and Beattie Pond.

In deliberations last week, commissioners said they accepted CMP’s plan to bury the transmission line under the Kennebec River Gorge and expand an existing transmission corridor next to the Appalachian Trail.

But the panel stalemated over the impact on Beattie Pond. In CMP’s current proposal, two poles would be visible from some parts of the pond, which has a single seasonal residence, is 27  miles down a gated gravel road and can only be accessed by foot. Fly fishing in the pond, which has a natural brook trout fishery, is allowed.

Seven of 10 commissioners participated in last week’s deliberation. The CMP proposal did not have enough support to get the five votes it needed for approval. The commission intended to revisit the issue at its October meeting.

The Merrill Strip easement to CMP was signed Aug. 28, according to record at Franklin County Registry of Deeds. Dickinson declined in an interview this week to discuss how much the land-rights transaction cost. The company earlier testified that $1,000 per acre was a reasonable value for the land it wanted. The total easement is about 17.75 acres.

Even though the company finalized the deal prior to last week’s land use commission meeting, it had not completed its review to make sure the site was appropriate for the power line, Dickinson said. Offering commissioners the alternative without due diligence would have been irresponsible, he added.

“We didn’t know at that point if it was a viable alternative,” Dickinson said.

Yale University, though Bayroot LLC, has substantial timber holdings in northern New England. Bayroot owns more than 288,000 acres – about 450 square miles – of timberland in Franklin, Oxford, Somerset, Piscataquis and Penobscot counties, according to an analysis of state tax records. The company is listed among companies affiliated with Yale in the university’s 2017 federal tax filing.

Two years ago, the university was caught up in controversy over Northern Pass, a power line proposed by Eversource Energy also to bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts through northern New Hampshire. Yale students and local opponents called on the university to reject a 2012 lease between Wagner Forest Management and Eversource for Bayroot land to build the transmission line.

In a June 2017 statement, Yale said that as an institutional investor it had limited control over land management decisions made made by its partners. Eversource abandoned the Northern Pass project last year, after it was dealt a defeat by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 19 to include the full quote from Sandi Howard, a portion of which had been inadvertently cut.

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