Maine DEP orders CMP and partners to remove mats and felled trees from corridor
Residents who live near the planned path of a transmission line in western Maine may soon see trucks and heavy equipment in the area. But state officials and project developers stressed Monday that work has not re-started on the controversial corridor project.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection suspended the license for the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor last fall after voters approved a referendum blocking the project. The two sides have been fighting in court ever since. But as winter closes in, the DEP has ordered the developers to remove more than 36,000 timber mats that were laid down for heavy equipment and to either remove or chip any trees along a 22-mile stretch that were cut before the license was suspended.
The department said Monday that the original permit only allowed those “crane mats” to remain in place for 18 months. And the suspension order issued by the DEP last fall states that vegetation cut prior to the suspension may be removed or chipped and spread in the area. No new vegetation can be cut while the license is suspended, however.
In a statement, New England Clean Energy Connect signaled that work would begin soon on the clean-up.
“With winter approaching, trees and mats can become covered with snow where Mainers use the areas for recreational activities such as snowmobiling or cross-country skiing,” NECEC said. “The NECEC project will send letters to abutters, municipalities, townships and county governments to notify each of these activities and schedules. As the MDEP noted, removal of cut trees and mats does not constitute construction.”
Last November, a majority of Maine voters endorsed a referendum that sought to block construction of the 145-mile-long transmission line that will allow Hydro-Quebec to tap into the New England power grid. But NECEC challenged the referendum in court. And in August, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the referendum was likely unconstitutional because CMP and its partners had already spent nearly $450 million and cut vegetation along 124 miles of the corridor route based on permits that were issued before last November’s vote.
But the Supreme Court ordered the Business and Consumer Court to review all of the evidence before making a final determination on the “vested rights” issue. Meanwhile, another lawsuit challenging NECEC’s ability to pass through a strip of state-owned land is still pending with the high court.