JAY — Planning Board members Tuesday voted against a request by Central Maine Power to have three members recuse themselves from voting a shoreland zoning application for alleged conflict of interest and bias.

The request was made by an attorney and related to CMP’s proposed 145-mile New England Clean Energy Connect corridor.

The majority of board members believed Susan Theberge, Linda Flagg and Delance White could separate their opinion on the nearly $1 billion project to deal with the shoreland zoning application CMP has submitted.

Seven miles of the high-voltage, hydropower transmission line from Canada through Western Maine will go through Jay. The line will enter Maine in Beattie Township in northern Franklin County, and go through Somerset County to Lewiston in Androscoggin County. Six of the 38 single poles and three two-pole structures planned for Jay are governed by the town’s Shoreland Zoning Ordinance.

CMP attorney Matthew Manahan of Pierce Atwood firm in Portland initially asked Theberge and Flagg to recuse themselves from discussion and voting on the permit application because of their known opposition to the project.

The two have opposed the project at town and state levels, and were actively involved in collecting signatures to get a citizens’ initiative together to have voters statewide weigh in on the project in November.

Manahan added White to the request Tuesday because he has a sign opposing the corridor on his front lawn and he was overheard saying he cannot support the project until CMP can prove to him it is a benefit to Maine, according to Manahan’s letter. He submitted documentation, which he called evidence of alleged bias in three letters to the board.

The town hired attorney Sally Daggett of Jensen Baird Gardner Henry of Portland to represent the Planning Board. Daggett tried to explain to members Tuesday what needs to be done. First the three members needed to either voluntarily recuse themselves or give an explanation on why they believed they could objectively and fairly make a decision on the application.

If they didn’t voluntarily recuse themselves, then it was up to the remaining board members to make a decision on recusal. But before the decision was made, the remaining board members needed to explain why they thought the three could objectively decide on the permit application.

After some initial opposition to that process, Daggett explained that if procedural requirements are not followed, then CMP could take the matter to court and the court would send it back to the board to have it done right.

Planning Board members serve in a quasi-judicial capacity in hearing and deciding on permit applications, she said. This means board members are acting like judges on the applications and must be fair and impartial to everyone involved in a specific application — the applicant, the neighbors, other board members and the general public, according to the letter she sent to the board.

Flagg, Theberge and White told the other five board members they could separate their opinions on the overall project and make a decision on the application. The five supported their comments.

The request to have White recuse himself was rejected by a vote of 5-0.

The request to have Theberge and Flagg recuse themselves failed by a vote of 4-1.

Members Dennis Stevens, Michael Hobbs, Barbara Cook and Alfred Dufour III supported them to stay on the board, while acting Chairman Michael Fournier thought they should recuse themselves.


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