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CMP agrees to stop corridor work, for now

Brian Bechard
Maine Public

Central Maine Power and its partners have agreed to stop work on a transmission line through western Maine while a court considers their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a referendum to block the project.

The developers pushed ahead with construction of the 145-mile corridor even after nearly 60% of Maine voters approved Question 1 on Nov. 2. That prompted project opponents to accuse the companies of ignoring the will of Maine voters. And Gov. Janet Mills, who supports the corridor project, said in a letter Friday that the ongoing construction was "disrespectful to Maine people." Mills urged New England Clean Energy Connect to stop work while the court case and a separate regulatory review play out.

“On behalf of Maine people, I am asking you to honor their will by immediately halting any further construction of NECEC until the DEP and the court reach their independent conclusions,” Mills wrote to Thorn Dickinson, president and CEO of the company. “While you are not legally obligated to do so at this point, immediately halting construction in a voluntary manner will send a clear message to the people of Maine that you respect their will. I strongly urge you to do so.”

Dickinson responded hours later by announcing that the company was temporarily suspending construction even as they pursue their legal challenge of Question 1.

“The recently passed initiative is and remains unconstitutional,” Dickinson said in a statement. “While the NECEC project will continue to vigorously pursue all legal avenues, the company has decided to temporarily suspend construction of the project until such time that the court acts upon our motion for a preliminary injunction. This was not an easy decision. Suspending construction will require the layoff of more than 400 Mainers just as the holiday season begins. It will also require the suspension of millions of dollars in future benefit payments being made to customers, businesses and host communities.”

On Monday, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will hold a hearing on a separate issue that could derail the project. DEP officials are reviewing whether to suspend or revoke the project's permit following the passage of Question 1 as well as CMP's loss of a lease that allowed the corridor to pass through one mile of state-owned lands near The Forks.