The Board of Environmental Protection decided Wednesday that it will conduct hearings and oversee the permitting process for the proposed Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline that will, if approved, carry natural gas between Baileyville on the Canadian border south through Westbrook in southern Maine.
Staffers at the Department of Environmental Protection asked the board to take over jurisdiction of the matter, although such permits may simply be approved by the DEP commissioner.
“This is just the kind of project that makes sense for the board to hear,” BEP Chairman Os Bonsey said in a press release. “When a project covers almost half of the state and we hear real public concerns from Yarmouth to Pownal to Gardiner and beyond, public hearings by the board provide the best way to air all the issues.”
Brooke Barnes, in charge of policy development and implementation for the DEP, said the most controversial issue is the route the pipeline will take.
The line itself will be buried underneath a 50-foot-wide grassy strip that the company will maintain. The state’s concerns deal primarily with construction impacts to waterways and wetlands, he said.
DEP received nearly 30 requests for board review. Requests came from the towns of Pittston, Yarmouth and Litchfield, three state legislators on the committee overseeing the DEP, environmental groups including the Maine Green Party and the Coastal Waters Project, and several residents of Pownal.
“In Pownal,” wrote resident Stephen Hyde, “we are trying hard not to lose our sense of place. We are trying hard not to have it stolen by those who are either ignorant of what gives our lives meaning or those who simply don’t respect what is of value to us …
“We welcome development that respects our community as the very nursery of our human being, as the nursery of our humanity, as the nursery of what is possible in and through human life as it relates to the wide spectrum of life on this planet. Pownal doesn’t need to become a utility sewer for the sake of `economic development.”‘
Maine statutes allow the board to take on that authority in cases where there is broad geographic scope and considerable public interest — “the idea being that the largest and most controversial projects will be decided by a 10-member board rather than just the commissioner,” Barnes explained.
The pipeline carrying gas from Canada to the Boston area would cross 350 miles in Maine and include branches to serve Woodland, Millinocket, Bucksport, Skowhegan and Cousins Island. The project also is now under analysis by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Barnes said FERC will issue a draft environmental impact statement soon, which will include recommendations about routing of the pipeline.
All voting members of the board favored the action as recommended by DEP staff. Board member Andy Cadot recused himself from all discussions about the project since his company represents a competitor to Maritimes and Northeast.
Parties interested in intervening in the process — which means calling and cross-examining witnesses in legalistic fashion, rather than just commenting on the proposal — must file a request with DEP by Feb. 6. No hearing dates have yet been scheduled, but officials expect those hearings to occur this spring or summer.