A group of Franklin County officials have requested millions of dollars’ worth of investment from Central Maine Power Co., including internet expansion, scholarships, tax relief and economic development, to compensate for a proposed $950 million, Canada-to-Massachusetts power line that would cut across the region.
But the memorandum of understanding request by local officials, which they earlier refused to disclose and kept secret, was released in detail Thursday only after they cried foul, saying the power company had canceled a meeting to discuss the matter.
Farmington Selectman Scott Landry, spokesman for the group, which includes Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said in a news release Thursday that he and the other members were “surprised and very disappointed with this latest action.” The others are Franklin County District 1 Commissioner Terry Brann, Chesterville Selectwoman Tiffany Estabrook and New Sharon Selectwoman Lorna Nichols.
“The group has worked tirelessly to bring forth a reasonable and mutually beneficial proposal between Franklin County and CMP,” the release said.
John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP, said in an email the company saw the statement from the Franklin County group, “but at this point we are not prepared to meet or respond to their request.”
Earlier this month, Saviello refused to disclose details of the proposal to CMP, saying: “I don’t negotiate in the press.”
On Thursday he responded to a Freedom of Access Act request from the Morning Sentinel with a copy of the proposed memorandum of understanding.
The proposal includes $11.1 million in benefits to Franklin County, as well as an additional $16.55 million in fees waived to help secure broadband access. It asked for the following benefits over 20 years:
• $16.55 million for broadband access, including $11 million in relief of annual licensing fees and $5.5 million in relief of make-ready/pole attachment costs; plus an additional $250,000 in support for project management of countywide broadband implementation;
• $2.3 million in operational support for the Greater Franklin Development Council;
• $4 million in “town funds” for municipalities to apply for leverage toward various projects;
• $42,500 for low-income energy efficiency programs and food security;
• $1 million in scholarships and academic programming at RSU 9, RSU 73, SAD 58 and the Stratton School; and $500,000 to establish an internship program at the University of Maine at Farmington;
• $1 million for a Franklin County tax abatement;
• $1 million for redevelopment support for Saddleback Mountain, the Route 4 corridor and New Vineyard; and
• $1 million in recreational support for Kingfield, Carrabassett Valley and the Stratton area for items such as the Kingfield Pops, eco-tourism and non-motorized trails connecting communities.
The group said the next steps will be to present the detailed plan to boards of selectmen in Wilton, Industry, New Sharon, Farmington and Chesterville, and the Franklin County commissioners for guidance.
In an interview, Landry said the proposal “isn’t dead,” and the group remains optimistic negotiations still could take place. He said the group had sought to keep the details of the memorandum of understanding secret because “we didn’t want to tip our hand.”
Now, he said, “Other parties are seeing we’re asking for something and they’re saying, ‘Why didn’t we ask for something?’ Other people are waking up to the fact maybe they can get something out of this.”
In Franklin County, the New England Clean Energy Connect project includes 33 miles of transmission line through unorganized territory and six towns — the four that have members in the group, as well as Jay and Industry.
Each town, with the exception of New Sharon, wrote letters of support for the project at the request of CMP, but Saviello said over the summer the towns had incomplete information when they signed the letters and he asked most of them, as well as county commissioners, if they would join him in seeking more benefits from CMP.
Jay, which has been hard hit in recent years by the loss of tax revenue at the Androscoggin Mill, declined to be part of the group, citing the $467,933 in new annual tax revenue the town would get from the project as enough of a benefit.
In Farmington, Landry said selectmen are also happy with the $436,183 in new tax revenue the project will generate for their community, but pointed to proposals in other states where “a lot more was offered” as a reason the town wants to pursue additional benefits.
Before the contract for the NECEC project was awarded to CMP, officials in Massachusetts considered alternative routes in New Hampshire and Vermont.
CMP has said bids on the transmission lines in those states were more costly and would have caused more disruption in communities and on public land, requiring the companies behind those proposals to offer up more compensation to offset the effect.
Central Maine Power Co. transmission lines cross U.S. Route 201 in Topsham. CMP has canceled a meeting with Franklin County officials who have requested millions of dollars’ worth of investment as compensation for a proposed Canada-to-Massachusetts power line project running through the county. (Portland Press Herald file photo by Jack Milton)