LEWISTON — Construction could begin soon on new transmission lines traveling in and out of the recently-approved converter station for the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect project.

In unanimous votes this week, the Planning Board approved two new sections of line in Lewiston: one that will connect to the Merrill Road converter station from Greene, and a longer section between the converter station and the Larrabee Road substation.

While both sections will be constructed on CMP corridors, both will be widened by roughly 75 feet to accommodate the larger lines. According to project details, the line from Greene will have poles with an average height of 128 feet, while the section connecting to the Larrabee Road substation will have poles averaging 115 feet tall.

In between, the Merrill Road converter station will convert direct current power to alternating current power. A separate application outlines upgrades needed at the Larrabee Road substation.

A memo said widening the CMP corridor to accommodate the new sections will involve removing about 13 acres of vegetation.

During the Planning Board meeting, staff and board members said the conditional use and development review applications had addressed any concerns relating to environmental impacts, traffic, noise and other considerations.

According to Doug Greene, deputy director of Planning and Code Enforcement, staff found that all changes were within the existing corridor, would not generate traffic other than temporarily during construction, and would not increase noise.

Jason Dionne, an attorney representing homeowners at 10 Brookside Drive, was the only member of the public to speak during public comment. He questioned whether noise concerns had been properly addressed.

A small section of Central Maine Power’s Larrabee Road Substation No. 418 in Lewiston. Visit sunjournal.com to watch a flyover of the substation. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Project consultants said the project will meet noise standards set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the city.

According to Greene, a NECEC noise consultant discussed both potential noise from the high voltage transmission lines and the substation.

“Both applications provided noise mapping and documentation that the noise from the improvements to the Larabee (Road) Substation would not exceed the city’s noise standards of 50 decibels at the property line and would be closer to 40 decibels at the transmission line boundary,” he said.

During the meeting, Greene said the applicant had “addressed noise to the satisfaction of staff.”

Greene said NECEC consultants worked with the Maine DEP on environmental impacts, including stormwater impacts.

Planning Board member Linda Scott told consultants that NECEC should coordinate the appropriate training with city emergency departments as soon as possible, rather than “upon request” as was initially written.

She said city personnel should be “comfortable should any situation arise.”

Greene said Wednesday that construction could begin within days, with NECEC contractors already applying for the necessary permits.

He said he’s “not sure if they’ve been issued, but we know they are anxious to get started, and I don’t know what part of the project they will start on.”

A small section of Central Maine Power’s Larrabee Road Substation No. 418 in Lewiston. Visit sunjournal.com to watch a flyover of the substation. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Site work for the converter station was expected to begin shortly after it was approved in late February.

The transmission line approvals are valid for two years due to the “scope of the project,” officials said.

The NECEC project, proposed by Central Maine Power to bring Canadian hydropower into the New England electric grid, has been controversial since its inception, mostly due to its perceived physical impacts on a swath of Western Maine and questions over its benefits to energy customers.

When other municipalities began debating the merits of the project, or pulling support altogether, Lewiston remained all-in due to a projected $6 million annual take in taxes from the project.

While a previous referendum effort to overturn the project was deemed invalid by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, a second effort has succeeded in getting a referendum on the November ballot.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that as a result, money is “pouring” into opposing campaigns, with project supporters outspending opponents more than 2-to-1 in the latest reporting period.

The referendum would require legislative approval for any electrical power line project that exceeds 50 miles and would impose a prohibition on such a project in the Upper Kennebec Valley. It also would be retroactive to September 2014.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows announced Tuesday that the state is now accepting public comment on the wording of the ballot question.

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