Last week, CMP held its meeting regarding The Chops tower lights, at the Woolwich Town Hall. The company came well prepared with more than half a dozen experts and staff to address the community about the strobing lights that have been a flashpoint in the daily life of the Merrymeeting Bay and Kennebec residents. And as the room started to fill-up with residents, legislators and reporters, conference tables were removed to make places for more chairs and people started to stand at the back of the room and in the doorway and the adjacent room, it became clear how much of a profound impact CMP’s actions have had on the people of this mid-coast region. After all, in just over 5 years, the Merrymeeting Bay is dotted with so many tower lights, it could now be confused with an airport runway.

The meeting started with heartfelt apologies with regards to the lack of communication with the community about the FAA mandated lights that would be installed on the 240’ Chops towers and the shortsightedness of their tremendous environmental and residential impact on the region. Then a short presentation was given about the implementation of the company solution to the lighting problem: the installation of an aircraft detection lighting systems (ADLS) that uses radar technology to trigger warning lights only when an aircraft enters a predetermined air space in the towers’ vicinity. This would also include the Bowdoinham towers. So far, so good.

Then the timeline for this project was presented. I will dispense with the details, but accounting for permitting, installing, testing, tweaking and bald eagle nesting, residents could expect to have the system up by October: eighteen months after they were initially turned on. Forgetting for a moment that timelines are often paved with good intentions, 18 months is a mighty long time. Could the lights be turned off during this installation phase? No: since the lights on the new towers were already activated turning them off would now be against FAA safety regulations, even if the old towers, which at 209’ were also deemed an aviation safety hazard, were left in the dark for nearly eighty years. How about just a beacon light as used during the Bowdoinham towers construction? No, FAA regulations.

But speaking of timeline, one can’t help but look at how we got here in the first place, starting, if I heard correctly, around 4 years ago when plans to address aging infrastructure in the area were being drawn by CMP. At some point, plans were presented to the Chopps School on Woolwich that would address their requirements of having the tower on their side be as inconspicuous as possible. While the same courtesy was never extended to The Chops residents or anyone else who would be affected in the surrounding areas, the decision was made to move the towers further up the banks of the Kennebec, which meant the span between the towers would be much wider than the old ones, which meant the structures themselves would taller, larger, which meant aviation warning lights were installed, which brings us back again to trying to make these towers as inconspicuous as possible by installing the ADLS radar system. Meanwhile, residents left the meeting maybe with more questions than they started with: Can anything be done to speed up the timeline? Did the towers really need to be this tall? Are the warning lights truly needed? And since crossing above a water way with tower transmission lines raises so many problems, why not follow the ground and go under water – the Maine coast is peppered with islands powered using underwater transmission lines? Is it too late to implement such a solution?

As I am watching the river lazily making its way to the ocean this morning, I can’t help but wonder how so much of CMP’s effort and resources were spent literally reaching for the sky (our sky) to address its infrastructure problem at The Chops, while the simplest solution may have been resting at their feet all along.

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