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Maine DEP considers revoking CMP's permit for transmission line through western Maine, and dozens of Mainers testify

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.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is considering whether it should revoke Central Maine Power's permit to construct a transmission line through western Maine, because of a court ruling that affects a roughly one mile stretch of public land along the route. During a public hearing Tuesday, supporters of the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor project urged the Department not to suspend CMP's permit, while opponents argued that allowing construction to proceed is a violation of Maine's constitution.

The permit came into question after a Superior Court judge ruled this summer that both the Mills and LePage administrations overstepped their authority when they leased public lands to Central Maine Power to build a transmission line through a 0.9 mile swath in the West Forks area. Justice Michaela Murphy said in her decision that any substantial alterations to public lands must be approved by the legislature.

But at a public hearing Tuesday before Maine's Department of Environmental Protection, advocates for the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor said that CMP's permit should not be revoked. Tony Buxton, who represents the Industrial Energy Consumers' Group, said that in the face of climate change, the project is critical to bring hydropower to the region.

"The statute requiring the commission, the Department, to protect the health and environment of the state of Maine provides substantial discretion for the Department to decide that in these circumstances, a revocation or suspension would be contrary to the public interest. We believe it is," Buxton said.

Groups that oppose the corridor project, such as Bob Weingarten of Friends of the Boundary Mountains, accused the state of violating both the public's trust when it leased the lands, as well as the state's constitution by failing to hand the matter over to the legislature.

"As Marcellus says to Horatio in Hamlet, 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.' Only in this case, it's rotten in the state of Maine," Weingarten said.

The New England Clean Energy Connect corridor would bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts through a 145-mile long transmission line. The controversial project is also the subject of a referendum question in November that aims to stop the corridor, which is already under construction.

Dozens of Mainers weighed in Tuesday night on whether the state's Department of Environmental Protection should suspend Central Maine Power's permit to construct a transmission line through western Maine.

During a virtual public hearing, William Frederic of Starks was among many who said the New England Clean Energy Connect project, which will bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts, should proceed.

"I am working in the woods right now on NECEC's project. I like my job and am lucky to be making a very good wage," Frederic said. "If this project is stopped because of the lease of public lands, I will lose a lot. I will lose my job and more importantly, I will lose a chance to make a difference to the future of our planet."

John Cote of Farmingdale said Mainers haven't been served well by regulatory agencies overseeing the New England Clean Energy Connect project, and urged the DEP to halt construction.

"I believe in my heart that it's never too late to do the right thing, and I think that this gives us an opportunity to put a hold on this, given CMP does not have a connecting route to finish this project," Cote said.