CMP corridor moves forward, despite local opposition
At the start of the year, it seemed like everyone was talking about the controversial CMP corridor project. Signatures were being gathered and moves were afoot to force a statewide vote on the matter.
The $1 billion project, officially dubbed the New England Clean Energy Connect, calls for a 145-mile high-voltage direct transmission line from Western Maine to Lewiston, partially buried in a tunnel beneath the Kennebec River Gorge.
A new corridor through Maine forest would need to be created for about one-third of the line in Western Maine, while the rest of the new line would follow an existing corridor to Lewiston. The line will connect to a yet-to-be-constructed and permitted transmission line in the province of Québec by Canadian public utility company Hydro-Québec.
Not everybody is a fan. In the earliest part of the year, there was plenty of vocal opposition to the plan on both sides of the Canadian border.
Then COVID-19 was upon us and most folks were too busy attending to the massive disruptions to their lives to get involved in protests over the CMP plans. The NECEC plan kept plowing forward throughout the year.
In May, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit to Central Maine Power Co. for its construction of the corridor.
In July, in an environmental analysis of the planned corridor, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a report stating it had determined the project would have “no significant impact” on the environment.
There were, however, still plenty of people paying attention, and opposition to the plan was renewed with zeal. In October, several groups filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers over its analysis, alleging it was flawed and inadequate.
The Appalachian Mountain Club, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Sierra Club’s Maine Chapter allege in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court that the corps failed to rigorously assess the transmission corridor project’s environmental impact on Western Maine.
On Nov. 4, CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had granted its approval for the project.
On Nov. 12, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Sierra Club’s Maine Chapter filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent work from starting, asking a judge to delay any tree-clearing until the court can fully consider the still-pending lawsuit filed by the three groups.
The groups argued in their motion that the 53 miles of new power line corridor would “forever fragment the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America and perhaps the world.”
Ultimately, that move failed, as well. Nine days before Christmas, a federal judge denied the motion for a preliminary injunction that would have delayed CMP from getting started on clearing trees.
End of story? Not quite.
Sue Ely, attorney for the groups that filed for the injunction, said the judge’s ruling does not resolve the central legal dispute.
“Our lawsuit challenging the flawed federal review for the CMP corridor will continue to move forward regardless of today’s decision,” Ely said in a statement issued Dec. 16. “Given the enormous impact this project would have on the woods, waters and recreational economy of Western Maine, Mainers deserve an answer to why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted their assessment behind closed doors and failed to properly assess the widespread damage that would be done.
“As it has done throughout this process,” Ely continued, “CMP is trying to predetermine an outcome by rushing to construction before appropriate federal review has been completed and all the lawsuits challenging this project are fully heard and decided. Instead of acting to protect profits for its shareholders, CMP must respect the concerns Maine people have raised about the damage the corridor would cause.”
CMP has complained that the delays have already pushed the project back from a planned in-service date of Dec. 13, 2022, to May 31, 2023.