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DEP holds hearings ahead of NECEC lease decision

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection held a virtual hearing with involved parties on Monday morning, followed by a public hearing that evening.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has launched a final public hearing before the commissioner decides whether to suspend a permit for a $1 billion electricity transmission project. 

The DEP held a virtual hearing with involved parties Monday morning, followed by a public hearing that evening.

Commissioner Melanie Loyzim said she will try to make a decision on whether to suspend the permit by the end of the month.

This comes after a majority of Maine voters selected 'yes' on Question 1 and passed the controversial referendum on Nov. 2. On Monday, opponents of the project urged Loyzim to uphold the will of the people who rebuked the project in that referendum vote.

During the public hearing, one participant said, "To put it succinctly, the people have spoken...." Others echoed the sentiment throughout the night, with dozens of people urging Loyzim to suspend the lease in more than two hours of testimony. 

Meanwhile, project supporters urged Loyzim to wait until there's a court ruling on the referendum's constitutionality. 

"Let the courts do their job," one participant said. "There is no need to suspend the NECEC permit."

Just a handful of people attended the hearing to ask the DEP to allow the NECEC to keep its permit.

Developers temporarily halted construction on the project Friday. NECEC CEO and President Thorn Dickinson announced the company would pause construction on the corridor just a few hours after Gov. Mills asked Dickinson to do so. 

Dickinson said they plan to "vigorously pursue all legal avenues" in order to complete the project to bring hydropower from Canada to the New England power grid. 

“The recently-passed initiative is and remains unconstitutional," he said. "The company has decided to temporarily suspend construction of the project until such time that the court acts upon our motion for a preliminary injunction."

He said the temporary pause on the project will result in the layoff of more than 400 workers from Maine. 

The project would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid, officials said.

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