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Environment and Outdoors

CMP corridor opponents pressure DEP to stop post-election construction

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Kevin Miller
/
Maine Public
About 50 or 60 people gathered outside of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's headquarters on Thursday Nov. 18, 2021, four days before officials hold a hearing on whether to suspend or revoke the corridor permit.

Opponents of Central Maine Power's transmission line through western Maine are accusing the company of ignoring the will of Maine voters by continuing construction despite the results of this month's election. Groups held an event Thursday to keep the pressure on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection ahead of a critical public hearing on Monday.

On Nov. 2, nearly 60% of voters approved a measure that essentially overrides state regulators and blocks the $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project. But at a rally Thursday outside of DEP headquarters in Augusta, Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine told attendees that CMP and its partners haven’t stopped working on the corridor.

"Over the past 16 days, CMP has accelerated its clearcutting in western Maine and it needs to stop. DEP needs to make them stop,” Didisheim told the gathering.

The DEP will hold a hearing on Monday to hear arguments about whether the project's permit should be suspended or revoked. Opponents of the corridor contend that not only have Maine voters clearly spoken, but CMP no longer has a lease to pass through roughly 1 mile of state-owned lands near The Forks.

Eliza Townsend, conservation policy director for the Appalachian Mountain Club, was among those who addressed a crowd of about 50 people, some holding signs calling on DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim to “do her job” and stop construction.

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Kevin Miller
Eliza Townsend, Maine conservation policy director for the Appalachian Mountain Club, speaks at a rally calling on state environmental regulators to suspend the permit to build the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor. Tom Saviello, a former state lawmaker who helped lead the successful Question 1 campaign to block the corridor, watches from the side.

"Commissioner Loyzim must suspend their permit immediately. Anything less is a dereliction of her duty to preserve the natural environment of our state,” Townsend said to loud cheers from the group.

In a statement, the DEP said the commissioner "acknowledges the public's call to reach an immediate decision” but that Loyzim is obligated under Maine's statutes to carefully consider the evidence and hear from the various parties and the public. Spokesman David Madore said the commissioner is committed to issuing a decision "promptly" after reviewing that evidence.

The NRCM’s Pete Didisheim says Loyzim should have suspended the permit months ago when CMP lost its lease through state-owned lands. But he is hoping for a swift decision next week.

"We think she should make the decision the next day, or midnight that day," Didisheim told reporters after the rally.

Corridor opponents plan to bring photos, video and other evidence to Monday's hearing to show what they view as CMP's destructive activity since Election Day. The developers of the New England Clean Energy Connect, who are also challenging the results of Question 1 in court, once again accused fossil fuel companies of spreading "disinformation" about a project that is critical to the region's climate goals.

In a written statement, NECEC president and CEO Thorn Dickinson said the project is fully permitted and that "we will continue to advocate for the jobs of hundreds of Mainers while the appeal process plays out."

The virtual hearing is slated to begin Monday at 9 a.m.