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Judge denies motion that sought to stop CMP from beginning work on hydropower corridor

U.S. District Judge Lance E. Walker ruled against environmental groups that claimed a review of the project by the Army Corps of Engineers was flawed.

MAINE, USA — A federal court judge has denied a motion by three environmental groups that sought to stop CMP from beginning construction of a controversial 145-mile electricity transmission line project from Hydro Quebec to the New England energy grid.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Sierra Club asked the court to prevent CMP from beginning work on the controversial electricity transmission line project until the court can fully consider a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental review of the project.

They argued that approximately 53 miles of the total 177 miles of the "New England Clean Energy Connect" would require the construction of a new corridor through the Western Maine Mountains, which the plaintiffs argue is “a unique and globally significant forest region that is largely undeveloped and unfragmented.”

The project has been approved by state agencies but was also required to obtain permits from the ACOE because it would pass over federal waters and wetlands and proposes filling wetlands.

The motion for an injunction cited the Corps’ granting of a Clean Water Act permit to CMP for the construction of the transmission lines. The groups argued against the ACOE's conclusion that the project “would not result in a significant impact -- neither beneficial nor detrimental -- to the human environment,” support CMP’s “dismissive characterization of the project area” as commercial timberlands, rather than a true biological baseline. 

U.S. District Judge Lance E. Walker on Wednesday denied the motion, writing in part, "Plaintiffs have not presented me with a contrary assessment by a regulatory agency such as the Maine [Department of Environmental Protection] or [the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife]. Given the assessment of FWS and the absence of a strongly worded counter statement by another regulatory agency,  and recognizing the deference owed to the Corps in its exercise of regulatory oversight...I conclude it is unlikely plaintiffs will demonstrate that the Corps’ assessment is arbitrary or unreasonable."

"The federal judge's recent decision to reject the civil action brought by Maine's top environmental groups further highlights the importance of our referendum effort," Sandi Howard, spokeswoman for the group No CMP Corridor, said in part Thursday in a statement. "There are still many ways we can stop this destructive for-profit project, but the best way to protect our environment and our way of life is through a statewide referendum."

Project developers said in a statement that construction of the transmission line won't begin until January at the earliest, the Portland Press Herald reported. 

“The New England Clean Energy Connect continues to meet every permitting milestone throughout the regulatory process," the statement said. "We will need to allow time for some planning matters such as the transfer of the project from CMP to NECEC but look forward to breaking ground in the coming weeks."

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