Ban on 'smart' meters, CMP legal threat, remain in Bath

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BATH — A moratorium on the installation of wireless “smart” electric meters still stands after the City Council’s Wednesday night meeting.

The council, which discussed the matter in executive session June 22 and held an executive session Wednesday on what was only described as a legal matter, took no action after reconvening in public.

Central Maine Power Co. has threatened to sue if the city does not reverse the temporary ban.

“It would have been nice to think (the council) would do something, but since they haven’t,” the company will have to “continue on the course” that it had set out on, CMP spokesman John Carroll said after the meeting.

The City Council voted 5-3 June 1 for a 180-day moratorium on the installation of smart meters by CMP without prior approval of property owners. Residents who want the devices could still have them installed.

Carroll said CMP, if it sues, will challenge the legality of the ordinance. That means the company is not bound by the usual 30-day window for appealing council decisions on other grounds.

Attorney Jared des Rosiers of Pierce Atwood told City Solicitor Roger Therriault in a June 8 letter that CMP believes the ordinance is inconsistent with Maine Public Utilities Commission orders and that it conflicts with state and federal law.

Des Rosiers said CMP wants the council to “rescind the ordinance immediately,” and that otherwise, the company is “prepared to take necessary legal measures in federal and/or state court to challenge the legality of the Ordinance.”

The moratorium was triggered after several CMP customers challenged the company’s meter conversions in complaints filed with the PUC. The customers maintain that the devices are unsafe, which CMP denies, and that customers should be allowed to opt out of the program.

While it declined in May to intervene, the PUC did order CMP to give customers the option of declining the new meters for a fee. Des Rosiers noted that CMP’s position is that the moratorium is not in the interest of its customers, since they will have to pay the opt-out fees “unless they affirmatively ask to have a smart meter.”

Carroll said the opt-out fees apply if customers choose one of two alternate meters: a digital electronic meter that is similar to a smart meter, but with a disabled communication system, or an electromechanical meter, which is the previously standard analog device.

Mixed-use trail

Earlier in the meeting the City Council unanimously approved a bid from Harry C. Crooker & Sons to build a multi-use path along Congress Avenue.

Public Works Director Peter Owen said the project, planned for two years, was estimated to cost $890,000, but Crooker’s low bid was about $633,600. The Maine Department of Transportation is paying 80 percent of the cost, while the city will pay the rest from tax increment financing district funds.

The asphalt path, for pedestrians and bicyclists, will run from the shopping center on Chandler Drive to the intersection of Congress Avenue with North and Lincoln streets and Oak Grove Avenue. City Planner Jim Upham said the project is part of an overall path envisioned to run between the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers.

Owen said he expects construction to be complete by October.

A public meeting on the path will be held at City Hall at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 14.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.