AUGUSTA, Maine — The future of the CMP Corridor, properly called the New England Clean Energy Connect, remained unclear Wednesday after opponents of the corridor asked the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to halt construction of the project after a court ruling that a permit was issued by the state violated the Maine Constitution.
That ruling came Tuesday, and so far the leaders of the NECEC have had little comment if any.
Leaders of the NECEC said immediately after the ruling that they were “reviewing the judge's decision”, but that’s all they have said publicly. The Maine Bureau of Public Lands, which is the primary defendant in the case, only said it, too, is reviewing the court decision.
The decision by Justice Michaela Murphy came after months of legal arguments in the case. The corridor, as planned, would cross about a mile of state-owned public land in Johnson Mountain township. The judge ruled that the Maine Constitution requires the lease for CMP to cross the public Lands with the transmission line needed a determination by the BPL that it would represent a substantial alteration of the land, and therefore need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature before the permit could be issued. The court record shows none of that happened with the original permit in 2014, or a revised one in 2020.
As a result, the court ruling indicated the current permit, so the permit is invalid
State Senator Russell Black, who is the lead plaintiff in the court case (Black vs. Cutko), said Wednesday he had no doubt the constitution was clear, and that the problem with the lease puts the future of the corridor in question.
“Even though it's a small parcel of land it's in the middle of the corridor and will keep the corridor from being connected. It's (going to) put a gap in the corridor and I believe because of that gap and no legal permit they have to stop the process and get this corrected.”
How that process might happen isn’t clear yet.
As of Wednesday evening, there had been no comment from NECEC leaders from the state Bureau of Public lands.
There is a general expectation, even indicated in the Judge’s decision, that the ruling will be appealed to the Maine Supreme Court.
The company could also try to change the route for the line to bypass that portion of public lands. Opponents suggest that the approach, even if the NECEC can negotiate additional land purchases or easements, would significantly delay the project because it would force a new round of studies, public hearings, and permitting decisions by state and federal regulators.
Sen. Black said it is highly unlikely the Legislature would endorse the use of public lands.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine has now formally asked the DEP to halt further construction and tree clearing until the question of the use of the public lands is finally resolved. Attorney Jamie Kilbreth has now filed that request with the state agency and indicated to NEWS CENTER Maine that they are prepared to take it back to court if the DEP fails to respond.