Before I start let me remind you that the Corridor would cross Maine’s public reserve lands in Johnson Mt and West Forks Townships. Anytime development that has the potential to significantly alter real estate owned by the people of Maine is considered, there is a constitutional and statutory requirement to have two-thirds legislative approval. (Maine Constitution Title IX Section 23 and MRSA 12 598-A.) The Maine Legislature has yet to give this approval! We have been battling this in the Business Court for over a year.
Last week Justice Murphy from the bench stated that both the Lepage and Mills administrations have kept lawmakers in the dark on public lands leases for the Central Maine Power (CMP) powerline known as ‘the Corridor.’
As someone who has argued for years that the Maine Constitution requires the Legislature to weigh in on substantial leases like CMP’s. It was refreshing to finally hear this confirmed in such a meaningful way after watching the Bureau skirt this constitutional requirement for years to benefit a foreign corporation.
In response to Justice Murphy’s statement, Jim Britt, the spokesman for the Bureau of Parks and Land said, “This Administration inherited an undervalued lease that did not sufficiently compensate the State of Maine for the use of the land. To rectify this, the Bureau of Parks and Lands renegotiated the lease to increase annual payments from less than $5,000 up to $65,000 with an agreement that CMP will pay more if an independent appraiser believes that is fair.” Mr. Britt seems to infer the only reason the lease was being done was to receive better compensation.
Mr. Britt seems unaware the negotiations were not only about compensation. Apparently, negotiations started after this request from Pierce Atwood on 3-25-20 to the Governor’s Office:
“We were asked to send to you our draft of a new BPL lease related to the NECEC. Attached is a clean version of the draft lease we have prepared along with a comparison version showing our proposed changes as compared to the existing lease. The only changes concern 1) the new rent which we have left blank; 2) the assignment language to facilitate the necessary transfer of this lease from CMP to NECEC Transmission LLC as required by the PUC, and 3) a new description of the leased property based on a now completed survey (this is something that BPL and CMP had agreed to do in the original lease). We have shared these documents with Bill Harwood and copy Bill here. We envision having CMP and BPL execute an agreement terminating the old lease at the same time they enter the new lease.”
You can see the negotiation of the lease was much more than the money. By the way, the negotiation started a few weeks after the 129th Legislature adjourned. While in session the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee voted unanimously this Corridor was a substantial alteration of the public lands. Early adjournment prevented a final vote.
Mr. Britt goes on to say, “Furthermore, the allegation that there was a “concerted effort” to keep the Legislature in the dark is plainly false. It is standard practice for the Bureau of Parks and Lands to negotiate and renegotiate leases to ensure that the State is receiving the best value, and it has the legal authority to do so when there is not a substantial alteration in the use of the land.”
Let me remind you in 2014, CMP entered into a lease to bisect public lands in Somerset County with 150’ power corridor on a 300’ right of way, but CMP did not gain the required legislative approval. In 2020, behind closed doors, CMP again negotiated a modified lease with the Bureaus of Parks and Lands (BPL). Last year, I filed a freedom of information request on the “new” public lands lease to find out how and why this was done.
Mr. Britt in his statement somehow forgot this information below.
In an email dated April 20, 2020, Anthony Calcagni (BLP) said, “Here’s the summary of the substantive revisions in what I just forwarded to Eben Adams: With input from Andy Cutko, we’ve characterized this as an “Amended and Restated Lease,” and added a provision in Sec. 23 that specifies this Amended and Restated Lease expressly supersedes the 2014 Lease. (As opposed to just signing a new Lease and signing a separate agreement to terminate the 2014 Lease.) Idea is to help show that this 2020 Lease does nothing to “substantially alter” the leased premises now, while still providing a new lease agreement that is being executed after the 2019 CPCN”
It is pretty clear the new lease was done to circumvent the required legislative vote.
And yes, the Legislature was kept in the dark. Ask anyone on the legislative Joint standing committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Wildlife if they knew about this “new” lease. I fully expect they would tell you they knew nothing about it until after the 2020 lease was signed. Again, keep in mind, the renegotiation occurred with the Administration knowing full well that the ACF committee had made a finding that the public lands would be significantly altered by the Corridor development.
Mr. Britt adds, “The Attorney General’s office was informed of the renegotiations during the process and reviewed the amended lease before it was finalized to ensure that it met all legal requirements and standards. The Attorney General’s Office was asked for its assessment and it concurred with the Bureau. To assert that the AGO kept the discussions “under wraps” is wrong.”
My continued review of the FOIA indicates the Assistant Attorney General (AAG) did not get involved until around 4-6-20, or three weeks after the discussions started with CMP’s attorneys. Interestingly, AAG Parker does not give permission to the Governor to use outside counsel until 4-27-20.The former AG, Janet Mills, was highly critical of then Governor LePage’s use of outside counsel hired without permission of the AG’s office, but apparently, that rule also didn’t apply for this project.
Interestingly, AAG Parker was asked to weigh in on an alternative crossing of the public lands in the Cold Stream properties in 2018. She was very clear the Cold Stream property would be substantially altered by the Corridor. This is the same Corridor that would cross public lands in Johnson Mt Township and the West Forks! One would think she would make the same determination for the Johnson Mt West Forks public lands?
Judge Murphy was right. CMP and the BPL hid the “football” from the Legislature and the public. I hope Mr. Britt does his research before making misleading statements in the future.
Finally, I also think you would find this interesting. The Governor was apparently using the public lands lease to negotiate with Hydro Quebec! In an email from Thomas Abello to Derek Langhauser (both advisers in her office) dated April 21, Thomas says, “When we spoke to the Governor about this on Friday, she was supportive of moving forward. She was supportive of the annual rent going from $4K to $65K. She wasn’t feeling any pressure to get it done asap – wants some of the HQ stuff to move forward first.”
Justice Murphy clearly struck a nerve with her finding because, as you can clearly see, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the illicit leases CMP entered into to exploit our public lands.