Maine’s top environmental regulator is poised to suspend the permit for a controversial, high-voltage transmission line following a judge’s decision earlier this week nullifying a crucial lease needed to route the project through state-owned lands.
In a letter sent Thursday, Commissioner Melanie Loyzim of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection notified officials with New England Clean Energy Connect that she is beginning the process to potentially suspend the company’s permit.
Loyzim noted that, following a Superior Court justice’s ruling on Tuesday, the company no longer has a lease for a 0.9-mile stretch of corridor route through public reserved lands in West Forks Plantation and Johnson Mountain Township.
“While this portion of the transmission line is only a small part of the overall project, this portion is necessary to the overall project purpose of delivering electricity from Quebec to the New England grid,” Loyzim wrote to NECEC Transmission LLC’s president Thorn Dickinson and Gerry Mirabile, manager of permitting and compliance with the company.
NECEC has 15 days to request a hearing on the potential suspension. If the permit is suspended, Loyzim wrote, it could only be reinstated if the court decision is reversed, if a new lease is negotiated for the section of land in question, or if the company obtains DEP approval for rerouting that portion.
NECEC and its corporate backers, Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec, have been trying to build a 145-mile transmission line to allow Massachusetts to purchase hydropower from Quebec. While work on the corridor is already underway, the project has faced fierce opposition in the regulatory proceedings, in the Maine Legislature and in the courts.
On Tuesday, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy vacated NECEC’s lease for the roughly one-mile section through Maine’s state-owned lands, putting the project in jeopardy.
Murphy ruled that the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands first failed to follow the procedures laid out in Maine’s Constitution for determining whether leases on public lands would reduce or “substantially alter” use of those lands. The bureau then failed to seek legislative approval for the lease if the project would substantially alter the lands.
“This is not a situation where an agency failed to take an important step in a public administrative process,” Murphy wrote. “In this case, BPL provided no public administrative process at all prior to deciding to enter into the 2020 lease and the Maine Legislature’s designation of these lands as public trust lands make these shortcomings very fundamental . . . BPL exceeded its authority when it entered into the 2020 lease with CMP, and BPL’s decision to do so is reversed.”
Project opponents cheered the latest development.
“It’s pretty obvious that NECEC/CMP cannot meet the criteria laid out by the Commissioner within the next two weeks, or even before the statewide vote this fall, so this determination is a huge win for CMP Corridor opponents,” Sandi Howard of the organization No CMP Corridor said in a statement. “CMP didn’t follow the proper process, and now they are paying the price for their mistakes.”