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CMP corridor debate reignites as all sides await court ruling

The board’s decision after the two-day meeting will determine whether it takes on a full review of the corridor proposal and holds a new public hearing.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Once again, "No Corridor" signs greeted those arriving at the Augusta Civic Center, as the Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) began hearing an appeal of the Department of Environmental Protection permit for the Central Maine Power corridor on Wednesday, properly called the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC).

The DEP granted the permit more than two years ago, and corridor opponents appealed that decision in January 2021. But it took more than a year for the board to agree to hear the appeal.

Opponents argue the original permit decision was flawed, claiming it failed to consider wildlife habitat impacts, view impacts, and other aspects required by law. They also argue state law requires decisions on projects of statewide significance should be decided by the board and not by the department commissioner.

The DEP Project Manager Jim Beyer told board members the commissioner did consider all impacts, as well as analyze whether the company had done adequate analysis of alternatives before granting the permit.

“There were six days of conflicting technical testimony, and that testimony and the cross examination of witnesses provided the commissioner with the information he needed to make an evaluation of the project and the permit now outstanding,” Beyer said on Wednesday.

The board is not allowing new information for this appeal, and has said it will not let corridor opponents bring in details about the referendum to block the corridor, or any of the court decisions that have occurred since the permit was issued.

Attorney Jamie Kilbreth, representing the Natural Resources Council of Maine, argued, unsuccessfully, that the law passed by voters should now be part of the BEP’s review on Wednesday.

“We think they are obligated to apply the new law, and if they apply the new law they have to deny this application,” Kilbreth told NEWS CENTER Maine. “If they don’t do that, at the minimum they should have a [public] hearing because the board is supposed to handle projects of statewide significance.”

Also during the first half of the two-day meeting on Wednesday, the NECEC made the following statement:

"For the past three years, every regulatory body at the local, state and federal level has thoroughly reviewed the New England Clean Energy Connect. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection concluded this project will benefit our environment. During these hearings, no new evidence will be submitted or presented.

"The real and serious need for this project to address climate change remains unchanged. The Maine DEP, after thoroughly analyzing the environmental impacts and alternatives to the project, correctly concluded the single greatest threat to Maine’s natural environment is climate change. The NECEC has gone to great lengths to mitigate the environmental impacts of the project affecting only a thousand acres of land while committing to conserve over 40,000 acres.

"With the price of gas and oil spiking, the need for the Clean Energy Corridor is even more evident today. We remain committed to the construction of the corridor and playing a significant role in Maine’s clean and renewable energy future."

The board’s decision after the two-day meeting on Wednesday and Thursday will determine whether it takes on a full review of the corridor proposal and holds a new public hearing.

Credit: NCM

Meanwhile, all sides in the controversy are waiting for the Maine Supreme Court to rule on two cases that will determine the future of the project. The law court is expected to rule at any time on whether the referendum passed by Maine voters in November 2020 is constitutional. 

That referendum, if upheld, would block construction of the corridor in its current route. The court is also going to rule on whether the project needs a vote of the legislature to be allowed to run the power line across a section of state owned public land. As currently proposed, the corridor needs that roughly 1-mile section of land in order to be built.

The appeals meetings are scheduled to continue Thursday. 

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