A rezoning was approved Tuesday for a 20-acre parcel adjacent to the Larrabee Road substation in Lewiston, above, for a high-voltage converter station. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to rezone a 20-acre Central Maine Power parcel that is the proposed site of a large converter station for the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect project.

While the council heard multiple concerns from Lewiston residents and others who live outside the city, the unanimous vote by city officials follows months of support for the project, which promises some $8 million in annual tax revenue for the city.

Central Maine Power, after receiving initial approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission earlier this year, acquired 20 acres at 183 Merrill Road, which abuts the Greene town line and is adjacent to the existing power corridor.

The current zoning caps structure height at 35 feet, but the converter station is expected to reach 70 feet. In response, CMP requested that the rezoning allow a height of 80 feet.

Matt Manahan, a lawyer for CMP, said the PUC required the project be located on a separately owned property to ensure it will be independently financially viable. He said the company acquired three connecting parcels in late July.

According to a memo to the council from city planner Doug Greene, the site does not have street frontage, which is also required in the current zone. An access drive to the site is proposed from a property at 1651 Main St.

The Planning Board voted 6-1 on Aug. 26 to approve the rezoning, with Benjamin Martin opposed.

Greene said that following the rezoning, CMP will have to return to the Planning Board for a conditional use permit and other permitting for the project.

Despite city officials’ support for the converter station, which is expected to cost $250 million, several people called on the council to postpone the vote, or to vote it down, given the project’s opposition statewide and the state permitting process still unfolding.

Tim Lajoie, a 2019 mayoral candidate and former city councilor, urged the council to put the rezoning question on hold.

“I think it’s premature to pass this at this time,” he said, adding there is a public lack of faith in CMP. “A lot of people still want to be a part of the discussion. Let this conversation play out in the state.”

Theresa York, a Farmington resident who was filming the meeting on her phone, told the council that, so far, 22 towns had either rescinded support or opposed NECEC.

“We have a referendum in the works and I think the Maine people feel strongly that they’d like to vote on this,” she said.

Others, including Susan Theberge of Jay, echoed arguments that have centered on the project’s impact on Maine’s North Woods and other scenic areas far from Lewiston.

“What we have north of us is rare,” she said. “It’s precious.”

According to a CMP description of the project sent to city officials, segments 1, 2, and 3 of NECEC would build 145.3 miles of new transmission line from the Canadian border to the Merrill Road converter station in Lewiston, and 1.2 miles of new transmission line from the converter station to the existing Larrabee Road substation.

In response to criticism of the project, City Administrator Ed Barrett said NECEC and the converter station are “important to the future financial health of the city.”

He said Lewiston has low assessed values compared to other communities, and other “unique challenges.”

“I think this is a good project for the city,” he said, adding the permitting process is far from finished. “It will provide income to the community that we desperately need.”

CMP estimates property tax revenues for the city will be about $8.39 million a year, beginning in 2023.

Syringe boxes

The council approved an effort Tuesday to place a number of used needle receptacles in public locations.

The initiative, led by CommUNITY Recovery and Tri-County Mental Health Services, is meant as a safety measure for children and adults in public parks and recreational areas, who, according to city officials, have been encountering dirty syringes more frequently.

However, others questioned whether the plan caters too much to substance users or sends the wrong message to kids.

Lajoie questioned whether the boxes “legitimize” drug use, and said the city needs to “be stronger in our efforts to drive drugs out of the city, and then we won’t need these.”

Ronnie Paradis, chairwoman of the L-A Public Health Committee, which endorsed the one-year pilot program, said: “I’m worried about children, or police picking up needles. If this can save one person, it’s worth it.”

Resident Joshua Nagine said he supports the project, but he is concerned about some of the locations, many of which are playgrounds or areas frequented by children.

Police Chief Brian O’Malley said, “I wish we didn’t have this issue, but the locations were selected because that’s where we’re getting calls.”

“We don’t expect people from the community to pick them up,” he said. “Let’s give this an opportunity and see how it works.”

The council voted 4-2 in favor, with Michael Marcotte and Zachary Pettengill opposed.

Housing Committee

The council approved a standing Housing Committee after months of fine-tuning and disagreements over details.

The city has discussed establishing a permanent Housing Committee for a number of years, which was capped by the final recommendations of the ad hoc rental registration committee last year.

Much of the discussion centered on how members would be appointed and requirements that members live in Lewiston, which was given some flexibility for certain members based on expertise in housing issues.

Continental Mill

The council approved a rezoning Tuesday for the Continental Mill at 2 Cedar St., which developers say will allow the redevelopment effort to meet its “maximum potential.”

The rezoning took the 600,000-square-foot property from the Riverfront District back to the Mill District, which it was formerly zoned.

City planner Doug Greene said the developer, Chinburg Properties, is looking at a multi-family development, with zoning that allows light industrial and commercial uses.

The Planning Board also voted unanimously last week to approve the change.

According to a recent letter to the City Council from Chinburg Properties, the company’s initial focus is to occupy the vacant mill with commercial tenants.

A contract rezoning, the developer argued, would “permit a broader range of commercial uses, in order to achieve the greatest flexibility in attracting and retaining businesses to Lewiston.”


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