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Judge denies CMP corridor developers' request to block Question 1

CMP corridor construction
Brian Bechard
Maine Public
Construction has started on Central Maine Power's corridor that is meant to carry hydroelectric power from Quebec through Maine to Massachusetts, although the project still faces numerous legal and other challenges.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

A state judge has denied a request from Central Maine Power and its partners to block enactment of a voter-approved law that prevents further construction of a controversial, high-voltage transmission line through western Maine.

The developers of the 145-mile-long New England Clean Energy Connect project had argued that they had “vested rights” to continue construction because of the amount of work that has been done to date on the corridor. As a result, the companies had asked Maine’s Business and Consumer Court to prevent Question 1 — a ballot initiative approved by nearly 60% of voters last month – from becoming law on Monday.

But in a decision issued less than 24 hours after oral arguments, Judge Michael Duddy said the plaintiffs did not have “vested rights” under Maine’s Constitution. Instead, Duddy opted to allow the law to take effect while other legal cases involving the corridor play out in the courts.

“The court finds that allowing the initiative to become law during the litigation will not cause plaintiffs irreparable injury,” Duddy wrote. “The litigation is moving rapidly, and the Court anticipates it will continue to do so. The public interest in participatory democracy is paramount and would be adversely affected by blocking the Initiative.”

While Duddy said continued construction delays will cause “economic harm,” he added that the impact to the NECEC developers “does not outweigh the harm to voter confidence and participatory democracy that would result from preventing the Initiative from becoming law while this legal challenge is pending.”

Duddy acknowledged, however, that the plaintiffs have “legitimate counter arguments on all disputed points of law.” And he suggested that decisions on those issues should ultimately be decided by Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court.

Maine’s highest court, which is also known as the Law Court, is already considering an appeal by the corridor’s developers involving a roughly mile-long lease through two parcels of state-owned lands near The Forks. A lower court had nullified the lease on grounds that the state had failed to fully consider whether the corridor project would substantially alter the state lands. Under Maine’s Constitution, the state must receive legislative approval for any lease through state-owned lands that substantially alters the property. But the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands never sought approval from the Legislature for the lease for the corridor project.

The New England Clean Energy Connect project is a partnership between CMP and Hydro-Quebec that would allow the Canadian utility to sell renewable energy to Massachusetts. CMP and its partners had already completed roughly 40%
of the work on the $1 billion project before temporarily halting construction on the corridor in mid-November following voters’ approval of Question 1.