EAST MOXIE TOWNSHIP, Maine — There was not an actual celebration. COVID and the cold made that unlikely. Still, a small crowd of workers in yellow and orange safety gear watched with satisfaction as the project that has consumed some of them for years marked a milestone.
The first pole was raised for the New England Clean Energy Connect, the highly controversial plan to build a transmission line from Quebec through Maine, to take hydropower to the grid for Massachusetts.
Construction of the controversial NECEC by CMP and Avangrid has slowed significantly three weeks ago when a federal court issued a temporary restraining order blocking any work in the new, 53-mile section of the corridor. The companies and opposition environmental groups now will argue whether the Army Corps of Engineers followed proper procedure when it issued the final permit for the project.
But despite the court ruling, work on the NECEC goes on. That was obvious Tuesday as crews and a crane from Cianbro and Irby--its partner power line contractor from Mississippi -- put up the first of a planned 829 poles. That one stands 100 feet above the ground, a company official said, with 16 feet below, drilled into the earth and ledge.
Another contractor, Northern Clearing from Wisconsin, is doing all the woodwork to clear the actual right of way for the new line. On the existing corridor, that means cutting the trees back 75 feet on one side to make room for the additional line of poles. The company said the wood and chips will be sold to Maine mills, although that hasn’t happened yet.
And while Northern Clearing is from Wisconsin, it has hired a number of Mainers to do the work.
“There’s a lot of us working for Northern Clearing and most of us from Maine,” said 22-year-old William Frederic from Starks, who said he signed on to be a ground crew member helping to place equipment and other tasks for those doing the actual cutting.
With both the federal court case and the likely referendum vote clouding the future for the NECEC, even Desrosiers admitted proceeding with the expensive work is somewhat of a risk for the NECEC. However, he said the company is taking it, in part because they believe seeing the work progress and grow will help diminish opposition.
“There is a risk, but we are confident with the benefits the project is bringing, that people will see that and (we will ) be successful in those cases and referendum and continue to build this project.”
Opposition to the NECEC is still strong, as evidenced several weeks ago when NO CMP Corridor turned in what it said were more than 100,000 petition signatures for a referendum to stop it. The leader of the campaign against the corridor said Tuesday there are multiple obstacles still facing the project, despite the company’s decision to continue with construction, despite the court ruling.
“This is yet another shining example of this foreign-owned company's disdain for everyday Mainers. Time and time again, CMP cuts corners and puts profits before all else, and in this instance, their foreign shareholders will likely pay dearly.”
Maine’s Secretary of State is expected to decide later this month whether there are enough valid petition signatures to force the referendum vote.