BATH, Maine — Construction for the controversial CMP Transmission Line corridor could start next month. That word comes Thursday from the leader of the project for Avangrid, CMP’s parent company.
After more than two years of debate and a long permitting process, the corridor route in the mountains of northwestern Maine still has not been cleared. However, that work could start soon, after the Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for the New England Clean Energy Connect. Thorne Dickinson, vice president of AVANGRID, CMP’s parent company, and President of the subsidiary NECEC called the Army Corps decision the last major hurdle for the project.
“We are getting ready to start construction, looking at the early part of December,” Dickinson said.
He said the permit will not require any major changes to the plan for the corridor, including the 54-mile stretch from the Quebec border to The Forks, which would require a new, 50-foot wide path cut through forest and around mountains in a generally undeveloped and remote swatch of Maine woods. That portion of the project has generated by far the most controversy.
Dickinson says they have already made significant changes to the project to accommodate some concerns.
“Going under the Kennebec River, reducing the corridor from 158 (feet) to 54, reducing insecticides and pesticides, (creating) wildlife travel corridors all were major changes, whether voices from Mainers we changed for or regulatory requirements.”
As a result, he says the company is poised to give a green light to private contractors to begin work on the project, which would initially involve cutting and preparing access roads to reach spots along the corridor route, laying large, wood plank mats to allow logging equipment to access the areas and then starting tree clearing for the path itself.
There is still major opposition to the project around Maine, led by the NO CMP Corridor political action committee and the group called Say No to NECEC. They insist the project will cause irreparable damage to the area, harming tourism and wildlife and changing life for local residents.
“I think CMP’s rhetoric is it’s a done deal and they’ve been saying that two and a half years,” said Sandra Howard, executive director of both groups. “But the fact is CMP still needs a Department of Energy permit, dozens of municipal permit. We know four towns have ordinances against the project.”
Opponents already have a lawsuit against the Army Corps, claiming it should have conducted a full environmental impact statement for the NECEC, as opposed to the environmental assessment that was done. Howard says they also have a suit over what she says is the failure of the Legislature to vote to allow CMP/AVANGRID to run part of the line over state-owned public land, plus an effort to get the Board of Environmental Protection to review the permit granted by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Besides those legal challenges, NO CMP Corridor just launched a new petition drive to force a statewide referendum vote aimed at blocking the project. Howard says they had petitions at more than 100 polling places Tuesday and collected 23,000 signatures. It will need more than three times that number by early January to force another vote.
With all those different attempts to stop the NECEC, Howard says AVANGRID should not start construction yet.
“If CMP were to go forward before all those things are finalized they would be taking a huge financial risk.”
But Thorne Dickenson says the company believes it will prevail and is ready to start building.
“We are confident the project will continue to move forward and are ready to start construction this December.”
If that happens, he says tree clearing would begin this winter, with the goal of starting to put concrete and steel in the ground in the spring.