Maine Attorney General defends voter termination of controversial corridor project

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) – The Maine Attorney General on Wednesday filed court documents defending the recent state referendum that banned the construction of a controversial electricity transmission corridor through the woods of western Maine wanted by the state’s largest utility, Central Maine Power.

In their 36-page brief filed in Maine Business and Consumer Court, Attorney General Aaron Frey and Deputy Attorney General Jonathon Bolton represent parties sued by CMP’s subsidiary New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), which is managing the project. of 145 miles, and its national parent company, Avangrid.

The defendants are the Bureau of Public Lands, the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Maine Legislature.

The brief opposes NECEC’s motion for a preliminary injunction to block the November 2 referendum, when 59% of voters in Maine approved the ban on the project, which would transmit electricity produced by hydropower in Quebec at a Lewiston station connected to the New England Power Grid.

The attorney general argues that the injunction sought by the NECEC – suspending the ban on the referendum so that it can resume construction – would allow the company to complete construction along with the two years necessary for the lawsuit be brought.

Frey and Bolton argued that the company sought to “make the corridor a accomplished fact before the court has a chance to determine whether NECEC’s various constitutional claims are valid. And their claims lack merit.

Their brief continued, “NECEC indicates that, according to its current schedule, the corridor is expected to be completed by December 2023. Taking NECEC’s own estimate of 18-24 months to complete the litigation, it means that NECEC could eventually build the whole hallway for the duration of a dispute.

The attorney general also took issue with NECEC’s argument that it has “grandfathered rights” – primarily spending $ 450 million on the project to date.

Frey and Bolton said that principle does not apply, because the state has a greater right to protect the environment, and because the company knew its permits were being challenged – including the petition campaign itself. to put the referendum on the elimination of the project in the November ballot – and played when he began construction.

“The NECEC has made a high-risk business decision and is now asking the court to protect it from the foreseeable consequences of this decision,” says the attorney general’s file.

“The start of construction of NECEC on January 18, 2021 was a calculated risk, and therefore not a good faith reliance on the permits,” the file continues. “In any case, the court should reject the idea that a developer who begins construction of a controversial project as part of a petition for a citizens’ initiative that would stop the project can somehow acquire acquired rights against the will of the people expressed by the process of initiative.

The attorney general also rejected the NECEC’s separation of powers argument, that the legislature essentially vetoed decisions of executive agencies like the MPUC.

The brief states that the Maine legislature holds the ultimate power to make laws and oversee public services, although it may have delegated regulatory power to state agencies.

Fifty-three miles of the 145-mile corridor from Beattie Township to West Forks is a new road made up of clear-cut trees.

The Attorney General notes that NECEC claimed that 97% percent of the new path has already been cleared, but only 8% of the 832 poles planned along the entire corridor have been planted in the ground.

The court filing one day followed the suspension of the May 2020 CMP and NECEC permit to build the corridor issued by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

NECEC had stopped construction days earlier at the request of Governor Janet Mills and is in the process of laying off 400 workers.

Even with the suspended ministry order, ongoing activity is likely to occur in the project area over the next few weeks to store building materials, stabilize disturbed areas and complete any work necessary to protect public safety. “said DEP Deputy Commissioner David Madore. email on Wednesday. “The ministry will continue to monitor activities throughout the project area to ensure compliance with erosion control, wetland protection and wildlife habitat requirements. “

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