Public involvement allows the public to feel empowered and involved in a project that might affect their immediate community. Open communication between residents, project teams and community leaders prevents issues.
Expansions or upgrades to a utility’s transmission lines are never easy. It can mean anger and hostility toward the utility company from abutting landowners who might be impacted and thousands of hours and potentially millions of dollars spent by the company to secure its rights-of-way.
Central Maine Power (CMP) took a proactive approach with public involvement on its Maine Power Reliability Program (MPRP), a $1.4 billion overhaul to its bulk power transmission system.
“In the past, utilities would just go out and build a project, but you can’t do that anymore,” says Chris Marshall, public involvement specialist at Burns & McDonnell. “We have to make sure the neighboring landowners are aware of what’s going on and are taken care of.”
CMP announced the upcoming project with a direct mail campaign, a step required by law. The mailers offered information on how each abutting landowner and the general public might be impacted by the project.
The team then met with each town’s elected officials to explain the project and obtain appropriate permits. CMP also hosted five public meetings where residents and business owners could ask questions, view route maps, learn about the project’s environmental impact and see renderings.
“Usually people were concerned about the project, but they did sit down to hear out the plan,” Marshall says. “Some are still unsupportive, but at least feel we’ve been honest about what’s coming up.”
To further open communication lines between CMP and area residents as the project moves forward, field representatives are available to visit homeowners unable to attend the meeting. These representatives answer questions from abutting landowners and report potential issues back to the client, helping avoid delays.
Additional mailers and home visits will explain how homeowners might be affected as the MPRP project moves closer to their area.
“The key is working for prevention rather than reaction to make sure everything runs smoothly,” Marshall says.
For more information, contact Chris Marshall, 207-253-4040.