The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded Central Maine Power a permit for the controversial transmission line the company wants to build through Maine’s western woods.
The 145-mile line would carry hydro-electricity from Canadian dams through western Maine and into the regional power grid, to serve a contract with Massachusetts utilities. The corps permit requires mitigation for wetland and other ecological impacts, and it is one of the last approvals the project needs.
Project manager Thorn Dickinson says the company is moving ahead now, with contracts worth $17 million already awarded to Maine lumber mills to make mats to protect job-site ecosystems from construction traffic, and a contract with a Wisconsin-based clearing company.
“Northern Clearing was another big award,” he says. “They are going to be the big first push on the project. They are going to be developing all the access roads to make sure everything is effective and safe, and they are going to be making the first steps toward clearing the corridor.”
News of the Army Corps decision, which CMP released late Wednesday afternoon, caught opponents by surprise.
Nick Bennett is staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, one of several conservation groups suing the corps to require a more rigorous environmental impact statement of the project’s effect on wetlands and other resources. He condemned the corps for issuing the permit without first allowing an opportunity for public comment on a draft version.
“It’s quite a ploy on their part to try to sneak this in when people are trying to pay attention to such important events that are going in the country right now,” he says.
Bennett says CMP and its parent company, Avangrid, should be wary of making big investments before the suit against the corps and other legal challenges are adjudicated. Other opponents, meanwhile, this week began collecting signatures for a new statewide referendum that would aim to kill the project.
The project still needs approval by the federal Department of Energy for what’s called a Presidential Permit, as well as approvals from some local municipalities that will host the corridor.
Dickinson says after more than two years of controversy, the company is confident it will clear all remaining hurdles.