NRCM news release
Augusta, ME (October 19, 2021) – In an unprecedented development that could result in termination of the Central Maine Power (CMP) corridor project, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is holding a hearing today to consider suspending the permit for the controversial transmission line. That permit was thrown into doubt after an August 10, 2021, decision (view PDF) by a State Superior Court Judge to terminate an illegal lease given to CMP by a state agency to cross Maine public lands.
Maine’s leading environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), called on DEP to immediately suspend the lease and force CMP to cease all construction until the company has full legal right, title, and interest to all the land it wants to build on.
“The only way to prevent such gratuitous and unnecessary environmental harm is to suspend CMP’s license until there is a definitive route for the NECEC,” NRCM wrote in their formal testimony to DEP.
“CMP is rushing to cut a corridor through the globally significant western Maine forests even though it doesn’t have legal access to its entire route. The damage would be permanent with no new benefits for the climate,” said NRCM CEO Lisa Pohlmann. “We call on DEP to suspend CMP’s activities within the 53 miles of western Maine forestlands until or unless CMP has a valid permit for the full length of the project.”
Expert testimony urging suspension of CMP’s permit was also submitted by Trout Unlimited’s Maine Brook Trout Project Director Jeff Reardon and State Senator Rick Bennett (R-Oxford County).
“Because the permitting procedures of any alternative would be time-consuming and the outcome cannot be predicted in advance, no further construction of NECEC should take place until the alternative has been finally identified and approved in order to avoid unnecessary and highly detrimental impacts to the environment,” Reardon wrote in his testimony.
Reardon also highlighted the importance of the public lands CMP wants to build for the state’s heritage brook trout, writing “virtually all of the lands on the two public lots drain into Tomhegan Stream, an important tributary to Cold Stream that has been documented to support spawning of brook trout that migrate up Cold Stream from the Kennebec River and enter Tomhegan Stream during the spawning season. In addition, Wilson Hill Pond in the West Forks Northeast public lot and Little Wilson Hill Pond in the Johnson Mountain public lot are designated as ‘State Heritage Fish Waters’ for brook trout—as are seven ponds on the Cold Stream Forest parcels.”
In November 1993, 72% of Mainers voted to amend the Maine Constitution to require that a substantial change of use on public lands be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. In 2014 and 2020, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and CMP ignored this constitutional requirement by quietly agreeing on lease agreements to cross public lands without legislative approval. Maine Superior Court Michaela Murphy ruled that BPL exceeded its authority to enter into such a lease with CMP and vacated the lease.
Senator Bennett emphasized that CMP should not be allowed to continue construction while the illegal lease is part of an ongoing legal case. “It makes no sense to allow CMP to continue construction on the gamble that the Superior Court’s decision will be reversed. Assuming that the Superior Court’s decision in Black v. Cutko is upheld, CMP will have to undertake a major reroute of the NECEC, requiring an amendment to its existing permit.”
Bennett also reinforced that the Legislature has made clear it does not support the illegal lease granted to CMP. “Both the Legislature and the Superior Court have opined that BPL [the Bureau of Public Lands] does not have authority to unilaterally authorize the NECEC to use these public lots…The public process must allow the people of Maine as well as the Legislature to participate in and review the conveyance of public lands and whether such a conveyance would result in a reduction or substantial alteration of the uses of public lands,” Bennett continued.
The DEP’s hearing will be conducted in two parts remotely via Zoom. The daytime session of the hearing will begin at 9:00 a.m. and is devoted to evidence from parties granted intervenor status. The evening session of the hearing will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will be devoted to receiving testimony and comments from Maine people. More information is available online at: https://www.maine.gov/dep/comment/comment.html?id=5473079.