Central Maine Power is replacing the five-mile Brunswick to Topsham transmission line, which supplies power to 7,800 homes. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick officials approved a use agreement with Central Maine Power last week that allows the town to keep some athletic fields that are within the company’s easement, but said did so “reluctantly” and said the agreement is another example of CMP being “a bad neighbor.”

The baseball fields, basketball court and playgrounds are tucked inside McKeen Street Landing, a 231-home housing subdivision along McKeen Street, Columbia Avenue, Emanuel Drive and Moore Avenue that touts itself as “Brunswick’s most affordable housing.”

The town acquired the fields and about $100,000 in 2012 from a developer who purchased the land from the Navy. The additional money was used to upgrade the playground equipment and refurbish the basketball court, Tom Farrell, director of parks and recreation, said, and the facilities are well-used by the community. Beyond the use from neighborhood children and families, the baseball field is host to the Cal Ripken baseball league and, more recently, the basketball court has hosted Bowdoin and Brunswick High School basketball players training outdoors. 

The land is also within Central Maine Power’s powerline easement, and ahead of its plans to reconstruct the Brunswick to Topsham line, the utility is requiring the town sign a use agreement in order to keep the playgrounds and sports facilities. 

The agreement is not out of the ordinary, according to Town Manager John Eldridge, but does put the town in an uncomfortable position. 

While it allows the town to continue using the structures within the easement, the agreement language essentially protects CMP, and according to Councilor Jim Mason, essentially makes it so that if somebody wants to sue CMP over an issue within the easement, Brunswick will have to defend the utility company. 

CMP also is requiring that the backstop at the ballfield and the surrounding chain-link fence be grounded, which councilors agreed was in the community’s best interest and helped address concerns about “the appropriateness of having these recreational facilities located within a powerline easement.”

Town officials asked if CMP might consider burying the lines, but, according to Eldridge, the company estimated that would cost about $600,000 and that Brunswick would have to pay for it. 

“I don’t know there was a lot of engineering involved in that estimate, but that was the number we were provided,” Eldridge told the town council. 

“If we had our druthers, we would never locate facilities like this under an overhead powerline,” Farrell admitted, but added that he believes that grounding the backstop and fence will “minimize the risk.” 

When the line is rebuilt, the power lines will also be 15 feet higher and about 30 feet farther north, meaning that they will no longer be directly above the metal structures. 

Farrell also said he was “pretty disappointed that CMP didn’t offer to participate at any level in doing what I think is the responsible thing, seeing the number of families that are served by this complex. It got by them when the Navy built all these facilities so I can’t believe this came as a shock,” he said. “It’s clear to me they had no desire to participate whatsoever in funding any of the $600,000 cost that they gave us, with not much detail, that it would cost to put these lines in the ground.” 

Council Chair John Perreault agreed, calling the price tag “outrageous.” 

“I know how much things cost (and $600,000) is a lot of money to run pipes and wires under the ground,” he said. “They just threw a number out there.” 

According to Catharine Hartnett, CMP spokesperson, placing transmission lines underground is “always significantly more expensive than overhead wire construction or reinforcement, and estimates are based on comparable projects, materials, extent of construction needed, reconstruction, etc.”

The transmission improvement project was put under review last fall by the Office of the Public Advocate as part of a new statewide Non Wires Alternative process, now state policy. This project is the first to undergo this process, and until it is complete, she said, it would not be “productive” to review cost estimates.

This is not the first time the utility’s plans to rebuild the line, or its method of approach, has been met with pushback. The project came under fire last year when residents of Columbia Avenue and Shulman Drive were told they needed to remove fences, gardens, swing sets and sheds from their backyards, where CMP has held an easement since the 1960s, to make way for the line expansion. If they weren’t removed, CMP told homeowners the structures would be treated as “construction debris” and removed for them. 

The transmission line, which runs about 5 miles and provides power to about 7,800 customers in Brunswick and Topsham, is being entirely rebuilt. Since this line is the only source of power in the area, the new line will be built 15 feet to the side of the existing 45-foot poles, which will be replaced with new, 75-foot poles.

Construction was initially expected to begin in earnest last December, but the project has since been delayed. Construction is expected to last six to seven months, and the project will carry an overall price tag of about $9.5 million, Hartnett said last year. Once the new line is built, the existing line will be deactivated and taken down. 

Residents complained of a lack of transparency, information and courtesy surrounding the project and its impact, and one homeowner said he felt like CMP intentionally left people in the dark. 

But town officials’ hands were tied. CMP has had the easement for 60 years, since before many of the abutting homes were built and they were well within their rights. 

According to Councilor Dan Ankeles, the latest development is just another example of the power company being a “bad neighbor” and “a truly sorry company.” Ankeles was the only councilor to vote against signing the use agreement, but other councilors shared his sentiments. 

Councilors Steve Walker and Christopher Watkinson cast their votes “reluctantly,” and Watkinson said he voted in favor only because the fields are so valuable to the town. 

The agreement puts Brunswick “between a rock and a hard place,” he said, adding that he is “surprised the company did not make a good faith effort to rectify this and meet the town halfway” financially. 

“I don’t like the position CMP has put us in,” Walker agreed, “but I’d hate to lose those fields.” 


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