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Jury gets Central Maine Power case after attorneys issue closing arguments

Heavy machinery is used to clear an existing Central Maine Power electricity corridor that has been widened to make way for new utility poles, April 26, 2021, near Bingham, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP file
Heavy machinery is used to clear an existing Central Maine Power electricity corridor that has been widened to make way for new utility poles, April 26, 2021, near Bingham, Maine.

After more than a week of testimony, a jury heard closing arguments Wednesday in a case that could allow Central Maine Power and its partners to resume construction of a controversial power line.

After Maine voters rejected the power line in a 2021 referendum, CMP and its partners sued the state, saying they had made sufficient progress to establish a vested rights claim. This is a concept enshrined in the due process clause of the Maine constitution.

The question for the jurors was whether the project developers were acting in good faith, or whether they expedited the project in order to establish vested rights specifically to thwart the referendum.

Arguing for CMP's parent company Avangrid, attorney John Aromando said the evidence had shown that the project was making significant construction progress by the time Mainers voted against it.

"122 miles of project corridor cleared, you saw the video during the testimony of Mr. Desrosiers. Seventy-one structures, 91 direct embed foundations, 8 caisson foundations for the transmission line installed," he said.

Aromando also argued that it was a good business decision to ensure vested rights, but that it was a longstanding plan, and the developers did not undertake it to subvert the intent of the referendum.

"What's missing?" he asked the jurors. "Evidence showing that the construction schedule for the project was actually created or expedited for the purpose of generating a vested rights claim. That's what's missing."

But Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Bolton referenced an email that was repeatedly highlighted during the trial. In it Paul Franceschi, a vice president of Cianbro, which had contracts to build the power line, wrote to his colleagues that they needed to get poles installed by Feb. 2021, to "help with any referendum issues."

"Ladies and gentlemen, I would suggest to you if, this sentence is accurate, the second sentence of No. 4, if that's accurate, that's the whole case. That's this entire case," he said. "Plaintiffs can't meet their burden of proof if this email is correct."

And Bolton said the burden of proof in the case rests with the plaintiffs.

"They did not prove that they undertook construction according to a schedule that was not expedited for the purpose of generating a vested rights claim. That means under this test, they did not act in good faith," Bolton said. "And if they did not act in good faith, they can't claim to be protected from a law enacted by the people of Maine through the democratic process. I urge you to conclude that the plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proof to establish vested rights to defeat the referendum."

The future of the billion-dollar project now rests with the jury.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.