Jenna Muzzy, Central Maine Power’s marketing program manager, outlined the company’s plan to install a radar system that will turn the tower lights on only when an aircraft passes within 1,000 feet of the towers. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

WOOLWICH — After apologizing to Woolwich-area residents for the bright lights on new transmission towers near Chops Point, Central Maine Power representatives unveiled a radar system they hope will solve the problem.

Pending permits from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, CMP plans to install a radar system on top of the towers that will turn on the tower lights only when an aircraft is within 1,000 feet of the towers. When the aircraft is out of range, the lights will turn off.

The company hopes to receive approvals in less than six months and have the radar system installed in October.

The tower lights were installed near the mouth of the Kennebec River over the summer. Neighbors told The Times Record they were never told the lights, which flash white during the day and turn 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.

“The lights that went on seven months ago are affecting your quality of life, and we heard when you said, ‘Please come up with a better way,’” said Jim Cole, vice president of projects at Avangrid, CMP’s parent company. “We sincerely apologize for our lack of outreach to you about the need to put the lights on the towers as required (by the FAA) and the impact it may have on your lives.”

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, as far away as Pleasant Point in Topsham and Brown’s Point Road in Bowdoinham.

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

The new towers needed to be 30 feet taller and farther apart than the original towers to account for heavier wires that sag lower and pose a risk to aircrafts.

There are small regional airports in the area, including in Brunswick, Wiscasset and Augusta. Combined, the airports operate 17,000 combined landings and takeoffs annually, according to Clyde Pittman, director of engineering at Federal Airways and Airspace.

While Woolwich residents agreed the radar system would be an improvement, some challenged the company to invest more time in exploring different options, or whether the towers need to be illuminated at all under FAA guidelines.

Woolwich resident Christian Leger said the community is upset CMP didn’t reach out to discuss how they could abide by FAA requirements while being considerate of those living nearby.

“If they had consulted with the residents in the area, they would’ve known we’re not okay with having lights flashing in our faces,” said Leger. “We all need electricity and we all need to live with a certain amount of infrastructure but we didn’t come to Maine with its beautiful nature to look at transmission towers.”

In a letter dated Dec. 16 to CMP President and CEO Doug Herling, Reps. Seth Berry, Allison Hepler, Sean Paulhus and Denise Tepler and Sen. Eloise Vitelli said they reached out to the FAA in November and discovered CMP proposed the current lighting system in February 2018.

The legislators wrote they were disappointed to hear an alternative lighting option could have been installed on the towers initially, which “could have prevented much stress and frustration for the community members, helped the community build some much needed good will with the local residents, and saved ratepayers money.”

Curt Fish of Woolwich said how CMP responds to this issue may sway how voters feel about the proposed 145-mile transmission line that will bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.

“If you guys want that corridor, you need to learn to come to communities first,” said Fish. “This is clean up work. If you want this project to look good on the corridor vote, you need to ask yourself if you really need to have those towers lit. If you don’t, pull the plug.”

Last November, Woolwich residents voted 611-158 to have the select board withdraw a letter selectmen had written in 2017 in support of the project.

“This is a lesson learned,” said Cole. “We’re going to design with the community in mind. We have to stand in your shoes to understand what the impact of (the lights) would be.”

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