Maine environmental board hears appeal of CMP corridor permit 2 years after it was granted
Central Maine Power Company's controversial electricity corridor project is back before state regulators in the latest skirmish during a years-long battle playing out in government hearings, courtrooms and at the ballot box.
The morning air was starting to heat up Wednesday as Wendy Huish, Karla Bock and Diane Kruchkow joined about 40 others gathered outside of the Augusta Civic Center to oppose CMP's proposed high-voltage transmission line. The women, all of whom live in western Maine, have been fighting CMP's project for more than three years but were hoping to keep pressure on the Maine Board of Environmental Protection as it met inside the civic center.
"It's frustrating but we haven't given up, as you see,” Huish said.
"And we're not going to give up. We are going to keep doing this as long as it takes," Bock added.
With construction on the project currently stalled amid the various legal challenges, Kruchkow added that it was “nice to see cows pasturing under where the corridor was supposed to be."
It's been more than two years since Maine's top environmental official issued conditional permits to CMP for the 145-mile-long electricity corridor that will carry electricity from Hydro-Quebec of the New England power grid. The decision was promptly appealed by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, CMP competitor's NextEra Energy Resources and a coalition of western Maine residents, businesses and towns.
Since that time, Maine voters approved a referendum to block the New England Clean Energy Connect project and multiple lawsuits are pending in the courts. But the appeal is still before the Board of Environmental Protection. And a major decision facing the board during its meetings on Wednesday and Thursday is whether to grant the request to hold a public hearing on the issue or whether the members have enough information to vote on the appeal.
"Today's meeting of the board is not a public hearing and is not an opportunity to receive additional public comment,” Mark Draper, a board member leading Wednesday’s hearing, told those in attendance. “A public hearing on the appeals would be a separate proceeding where the existing record is reopened to receive additional information from the parties and the public."
The appellants argue that CMP does not have right-and-title to the full length of the corridor because a judge rescinded a lease from the state for a one-mile stretch of the project. They also contend the project is of such "statewide significance" that the board – not the state's environmental commissioner – should have reviewed the permit application. They also say the project will harm the environment and they accuse CMP of failing to consider viable alternatives.
But Matt Manahan, an attorney for the New England Clean Energy Connect and CMP, dismissed those arguments on Wednesday and said DEP staff followed all of the applicable rules and procedures before the commissioner issued the permits.
"Appellants are trying to confuse and misapply straight-forward rules and regulations under which the DEP operates to stop this project,” Manahan said. “But don't let them confuse you."
The board is expected to resume its consideration of the appeals on Thursday.