Our natural resources are our brand here in Maine and must be protected to ensure that future generations of Mainers can continue to enjoy and benefit from the unparalleled and vast beauty of our great outdoors. The Upper Kennebec region provides critical habitat for heritage fisheries and are an integral part of Maine, and as legislators, the job entrusted to us by the people of this great state is to ensure that the stewardship of these lands is taken seriously.
That’s why four lawmakers including myself — two members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and two members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee — were concerned about reports that the Central Maine Power clear cuts in the region are double what is being advertised by the company, and that the tapering condition included in the permit isn’t working.
This stipulation is in place to minimize the damage to the forest as well as wildlife and natural habitats in the environment surrounding the corridor route, and the state must ensure that these conditions are met.
The Environment and Natural Resources Committee received reports on May 28 that this was not the case, which is why Sen. Rick Bennett, Rep. Lori Gramlich, Rep. Scott Landry and I personally visited the CMP Corridor (also known as the New England Clean Energy Connect, or NECEC) in Johnson Mountain Township on June 24 and 29 to witness the clear cut that was in question.
Our goal was to view and measure the cuttings ourselves to: 1. Determine the actual width of the cut corridor; 2. Assess if the “tapering” condition in the site location permit is an effective tool to protect the wildlife, fisheries and vista; 3. Visit the public lands where the lease has been illegitimately issued to allow the corridor to substantially alter these lands without the constitutionally-required two-thirds vote of the Legislature; and 4. Document our findings.
We were disturbed by what we saw and are publicly calling on the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Environmental Protection to intervene and do their duty to ensure the protection of this special place.
On our visit to CMP’s Corridor route, we found that the clear cuts are currently between 84- and 100-plus-feet wide, almost twice the width NECEC has advertised. We also found that the tapering requirement, designed to protect critical wildlife habitat and the scenic character of this special part of Maine either cannot, or simply isn’t, being met.
As someone who has worked in the forest on woodlots in and around clear cuts for 49 years now, I am very confident in our findings.
To make matters worse, unless the Board of Environmental Protections steps in, these clear cuts will only get wider as crews return to the forest on August 1st to continue clearing the supposed taper zones.
Corridor construction in remote Segment 1 is on hold to protect the young of the federally protected northern long-eared bats. The bats are listed as protected by both the state and federal government because of white-noise syndrome which has killed the majority of all bats in Maine. When corridor construction resumes in August, the clear cutting will continue through the heart of the North Maine Woods, bisecting protected public reserve lands that include two Maine heritage fisheries, Little Wilson Hill Pond and Wilson Hill Pond, no doubt having a warming effect on both that will irreparably damage these invaluable resources.
Let me be clear — corridor operations must cease until this condition is addressed and thoroughly studied to provide the protections desired, and this permanent scar would absolutely constitute as a substantial alteration of the use of invaluable Maine Public Reserve Land, and therefore the lease granted behind closed doors to CMP for this project should have come before the Legislature for a two-thirds vote of approval.
If you care about protecting our natural resources and ensuring that CMP is held accountable for the way they have conducted themselves while promoting this destructive and unpopular project, please join me in voting yes to stop the project this November.
Russell Black, a Republican from Wilton, is serving his second term in the Maine Senate.