BRUNSWICK — Samuel Feldman has to take down the swing set that his 9-year-old daughter plays on, and that he hoped his newborn twin boys would one day be able to enjoy.

Andrew Dawson may lose the asparagus crop he has cultivated in his garden for the past several years.

Jaime R. Reatiraza will have to say goodbye to his apple tree, his gardens and most of the yard behind the home he has lived in for 42 years.

Homeowners and renters on Columbia Avenue and Shulman Drive in Brunswick are abutters on an easement owned by Central Maine Power Co. since the 1960s. The land sits directly beneath the power lines that run between the two streets. The 30-foot wide area, surrounded by abutter’s fences, is overgrown and one resident described it as a “tick-infested mess.” Soon, that area is expected to nearly triple in width as CMP exercises its right to take over the full 100-foot-wide easement when it rebuilds the 5-mile transmission line that stretches from Brunswick to Topsham.

The transmission line, which provides power to about 7,800 customers in the two towns, is strung along 45-foot poles that are aging and must be replaced, CMP representative Deborah Turcott told the town council this month. The new poles will be around 75-feet tall, and since the current line is the only source of power in the area, the new line will be built alongside the existing poles so power isn’t cut off during the process. Construction will begin in December and is expected to last six to seven months. The entire project is expected to cost about $9.5 million, according to Catharine Hartnett, CMP’s manager of corporate communications.

Once the new line is finished, the current line will be deactivated and taken down.

Before the work starts, as many as 15 Brunswick residents will have to take down swing sets, garden beds, sheds and fences – structures that CMP argues should not have been built there in the first place. If the property owners don’t move them by Nov. 1, they will be treated as “construction debris” and bulldozed. At the Topsham portion of the line, the land abuts commercial properties.

“They should have asked for permission to put (those structures) in,” said Nicole Harbaugh, CMP high voltage projects manager.

During a recent council meeting, some councilors questioned why the taller poles would need a wider berth, and why they needed to take an additional 35 feet on each side of the easement when the new poles would only be 15 feet from the existing ones.

“Because we need a clear, unobstructed area to build the line, we will exercise our right to use the full 100-foot width (of the easement),” Turcott said.

Councilor Kathy Wilson asked if they had considered installing the line underground, a move she saw as “an opportunity to do the right thing.” CMP said that would be cost-prohibitive.

“The transmission and delivery and distribution costs in this state have skyrocketed, and you get a very nice guaranteed profit as a company,” Councilor Dan Ankeles said. “So when you speak of cost-prohibitive for something like burying lines, in a way that would be far less intrusive, and using the full 100 feet when it seems like maybe it’s not entirely necessary to use all 100, it really underscores for me some of the complaints that I have heard,” he added. “I’m dumbfounded by this. It really is unfortunate.”

He asked if CMP will continue to need the full 100 feet of the easement once the work is done.

“The 100-foot easement will remain in place,” Harbaugh said.

Ankeles asked if abutters could put their fences and structures back.

Property owners would “need an agreement to say you can put a fence back,” she said.

“If they have to remove a fence, it is their expense to put it back on their property, assuming they get permission from you to put it back on their property,” Wilson said. “Wow.”

“We will try to accommodate as many people as possible,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t want to come through and bush hog everything and make it a place where people don’t want to live.”

Despite the assurances, some residents have expressed frustration with the process and what they call a lack of communication.

CMP officials sent a letter to property owners about the project in April, then sent a representative out a few months later to discuss the next steps. But many said they never got the letter.

Feldman, who bought his home in January, told the Town Council he did not know about the project until late September. He has been emailing CMP for weeks with a list of questions, but has not heard back, he said. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to put his swing set or fence back after construction.

Dawson also doesn’t remember receiving a letter in April and said Thursday that he found out about the project only a few weeks ago, when a CMP representative came to his home.

“I would have liked them to do things differently and to do it a while ago,” he said, adding that they should have led with more information. He received a letter Monday saying that “identified structures” needed to be removed, but it did not say what those structures were.

Dawson and his wife spoke with Harbaugh on Friday morning and voiced their concerns. “We didn’t get any guarantees, but they did give us more information that we had,” he said in an email. “We still have concerns and we communicated a lot of them, but there is still a bit of wait and see to it.”

“In Brunswick, I have to have a permit if I want to install an electrical outlet in my kitchen, and someone would have to come inspect it before I can use it,” he said Thursday, “and CMP can just come in and bulldoze people’s gardens.”

But town officials say their hands are tied. CMP has held the easement for over 60 years, since before many of the neighboring homes were even built, and as Councilor Jane Millett put it, “the bottom line is, we don’t have any control over what you do.”

“I’ve been paying taxes on this land and they’re going to take it over,” Reatiraza said. “If you want to do this you can buy my property and I’ll move. I don’t like it.”


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