March 18, 2010

As transmission line project plans proceed,property owners ponder offers and safety concerns


LITCHFIELD -- David Ledew and his wife, Kathy, couldn't decide whether to take Central Maine Power Co. up on its offer to buy their home.

The utility wants to install a high-voltage power line on the Ledews' property as part of a billion-dollar upgrade of its transmission system.

Their house in Litchfield is near the rights-of-way of a 115,000-volt transmission line and a 34,500-volt transmission line.

CMP is embarking on a 10-year initiative to upgrade its bulk power transmission system, which includes 475 miles of 345,000-volt lines, plus substations and control facilities that link New Brunswick to New Hampshire and southern New England.

Municipalities along the route include Windsor, Whitefield, Winslow, Washington, Waterville, West Gardiner, Skowhegan, Somerville, Oakland, Jefferson, Litchfield, Monmouth, China, Clinton, Fairfield, Farmingdale, Augusta, Benton and Chelsea.

Power company representatives in the process of negotiating agreements with property owners affected by the project recently sat down with Ledew and his wife to work through the details.

The couple said they were told that the 115,000-volt line would remain, but the 34,500-volt line would be replaced with a 345,000-volt transmission line.

CMP wanted to expand the right-of-way for the power line by an additional 25 feet, which would have sliced through the corner of their house.

They said the company offered to purchase the property at fair market value and help them relocate. They also had the option of moving their home to the back of the 21/2-acre lot, away from the transmission lines.

"That would get us further away from the power lines but we had other concerns with being next to the 345 KV line they were going to build and the 115 KV line they were going to keep," Ledew said. "Those are two significant power lines."

CMP Representatives provided the couple with a 1999 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences report called "Health Effects from Exposure to Power Line Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields," they said.

The institute is part of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Based on studies about the incidence of childhood leukemia involving a large number of households, the Institute found that power line magnetic fields are a possible cause of the cancer.

Electric and magnetic fields, also known as EMFs, are invisible lines of force associated with the production, transmission and use of electric power. The fields can be found near high-voltage transmission lines, secondary power lines and home wiring and electric lights.

Electric and magnetic fields also arise from the motors and heating coils found in electronic equipment and appliances, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The evidence of a cancer link was weak, it said, but "it was sufficient to warrant limited concern."

For two months, Ledew and his wife considered their options.

Then, CMP workers came back and said the company had decided to re-engineer that section of corridor. The power lines would instead be placed on the other side of the stream in front of their home.

"We went from a worst-case scenario to absolutely benefiting, but we'll still be within 300 feet of 115,000 and a 345,000 (volt transmission lines). That certainly doesn't alleviate our concerns.

"It's a significant upgrade they're doing to this system. It's not going to be completed for three years, and we are absolutely considering all options including selling at that point and relocating."

CMP spokesman John Carroll said there are no hard and fast standards based on scientific understanding of what causes cancer and the effects electric and magnetic fields have on a body.

"How much is safe or unsafe, there's no science to say," he said.

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