The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is considering whether it should revoke Central Maine Power's permit to construct a transmission line through western Maine, because of a court ruling that affects a roughly one mile stretch of public land along the route. During a public hearing Tuesday, supporters of the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor project urged the Department not to suspend CMP's permit, while opponents argued that allowing construction to proceed is a violation of Maine's constitution.
The permit came into question after a Superior Court judge ruled this summer that both the Mills and LePage administrations overstepped their authority when they leased public lands to Central Maine Power to build a transmission line through a 0.9 mile swath in the West Forks area. Justice Michaela Murphy said in her decision that any substantial alterations to public lands must be approved by the legislature.
But at a public hearing Tuesday before Maine's Department of Environmental Protection, advocates for the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor said that CMP's permit should not be revoked. Tony Buxton, who represents the Industrial Energy Consumers' Group, said that in the face of climate change, the project is critical to bring hydropower to the region.
"The statute requiring the commission, the Department, to protect the health and environment of the state of Maine provides substantial discretion for the Department to decide that in these circumstances, a revocation or suspension would be contrary to the public interest. We believe it is," Buxton said.
Groups that oppose the corridor project, such as Bob Weingarten of Friends of the Boundary Mountains, accused the state of violating both the public's trust when it leased the lands, as well as the state's constitution by failing to hand the matter over to the legislature.
"As Marcellus says to Horatio in Hamlet, 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.' Only in this case, it's rotten in the state of Maine," Weingarten said.
The New England Clean Energy Connect corridor would bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts through a 145-mile long transmission line. The controversial project is also the subject of a referendum question in November that aims to stop the corridor, which is already under construction.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is hearing testimony from the general public on the permit issue beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.