AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday that it may pull its permit of the $1 billion hydropower corridor through western Maine after a judge’s ruling put the project’s route at risk.
Commissioner Melanie Loyzim told the Central Maine Power Co. affiliate overseeing the corridor’s construction that the department may suspend or revoke its permit after a Superior Court judge ruled this week that the Bureau of Parks and Lands did not have the authority to grant 2014 and 2020 leases on public lands in rural Somerset County.
It is a major setback for the project, which has been expected to be operational by mid-2023. The state’s decision comes after judge Michaela Murphy found the state needed to conduct further analysis of whether the corridor would substantially alter public lands. The Maine Constitution requires any project that does so on state lands needs a two-thirds vote by both chambers of the Legislature.
She also alluded to the importance of the public lands lease, calling it a “small” but “necessary” part of the overall project that, if lost, could prevent the corridor from meeting its goal of bringing electricity from the Quebec province through Maine into the New England grid.
The CMP affiliate is allowed 15 days to request a hearing to contest the potential suspension. A company spokesperson was unable to provide a comment immediately. A department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The notice followed a Wednesday request for a stay on all new clearing and construction from lawyer James Kilbreth, who represented challengers to the lease including the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Kilbreth told Loyzim and the Board of Environmental Protection that a delay was necessary so the public would not be “irreparably harmed” by construction in an area that might not be allowed. He requested a stay by Monday.
On Friday, Kilbreth called Loyzim’s decision an “encouraging and appropriate action” that recognized the importance of the lease. Any reconsideration of the corridor’s route would likely trigger a review of the project’s federal approvals, most notably an Army Corps of Engineers permit, Kilbreth said.
“The problem of not being able to connect the line, of having the line connect to nowhere, is a problem for CMP at the state and federal level,” he said.