PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The Army Corps of Engineers has granted the final permit needed for construction to proceed on a 145-mile (230-kilometer) power transmission line corridor through western Maine, officials said Wednesday.
Avangrid, which is Central Maine Power's corporate parent, contends the $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect will bring both economic and environmental benefits to the region.
With the permit, construction can begin “in the coming weeks,” Avangrid President Robert Kump said in a statement.
Supporters say the project will provide a conduit for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to reach the New England power grid, reducing greenhouse emissions and stabilizing energy costs for ratepayers.
Critics questioned the environmental benefits while contending the project would spoil vast tracts of wilderness.
The project previously received approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Land Use Planning Commission and Maine Public Utilities Commission.
The Army Corps permit represented the final hurdle to construction in Maine, but there is another required permit. The project’s backers must obtain a so-called “presidential permit” issued by the Department of Energy for the cross-border connection, officials said.
But opponents aren't giving up.
They're suing in federal court to force the the Army Corps to conduct a more rigorous environmental impact statement instead of the less-stringent environmental assessment of the project's impact.
The Army Corps “failed in their duty to rigorously and fairly evaluate the long-standing harm the CMP corridor would inflict on the woods, waters and communities of Western Maine,” said Nick Bennett, staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Opponents also are collecting signatures for another referendum drive aimed at stopping the project.
It's the second referendum drive after opponents previously collected more than 63,000 signatures for a “People’s Veto” referendum that was deemed unconstitutional by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
The new referendum would mandate legislative approval of transmission lines longer than 50 miles (80 kilometers) and ban high-impact transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region. Both provisions, aimed squarely at the project, would be retroactive to Sept. 16, 2020.
The project, which would be fully funded by Massachusetts ratepayers to meet the state's clean energy goals, calls for construction of a high-voltage power line from Mount Beattie Township on the Canadian border to the regional power grid in Lewiston, Maine.
Much of the project calls for widening existing corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of wilderness in western Maine. It would cross the Appalachian Trail and several hundred wetlands and streams, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.