This story will be updated.
Central Maine Power Co. received a second key approval from regulators Wednesday for its hydropower project when the Maine Land Use Planning Commission voted 5 to 2 to grant it a land-use certification.
The approval follows last April’s ruling by the Maine Public Utilities Commission to grant its permit for the $1 billion project. The project still requires several state and federal approvals as well as municipal permits.
The ruling said CMP’s project overall complies with the commission’s land-use standards, although it requires CMP to remove and in some cases add vegetation, assure emergency vehicles can get into the planned hydropower corridor and get applicable construction permits.
The approval comes after the commission failed last September to form a consensus on the project because it passed too close to Beattie Pond, a protected fishery.
CMP subsequently asked the commission to allow it to re-route the hydropower line from Beattie Pond to Merrill Strip Township, where it would be allowed with a permit. The move will add $1 million to the project.
CMP’s New England Clean Energy Connect project would supply hydroelectricity from the Canadian border to Massachusetts via a 145-mile corridor, 53 miles of which are through areas in western Maine that would require building the transmission infrastructure.
The CMP project continues to draw criticism from opponents, who claim it will interfere with Maine’s natural resources and not provide benefits to Mainers.
When the draft was released, Sandra Howard, director of the grassroots Say NO to NECEC group, said the staff recommendation “devalues the importance of preserving Maine’s natural, scenic, and recreational resources of the Kennebec River and National Scenic Appalachian Trail in particular, which are the focus of this permit review.”
Howard and others will have to gather 63,067 signatures, which equals 10 percent of the votes cast for governor in 2018. She would not disclose how many signatures there are to date, but she told the Bangor Daily News recently that signatures still are being collected for submission on the Feb. 3 deadline.
CMP has said the project remains on schedule to complete permitting and start construction in 2020. It is expected to go into commercial operation in December 2022.
The Land Use Planning Commission oversees the Unorganized Territory, the area of Maine where there are no incorporated municipal governments.
The commission is a nine-member board composed of county and gubernatorial appointees. It needs five votes to pass or deny any request.
Its decision Wednesday certified that the CMP project is permitted in the areas where it is proposed. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection in turn will consider the commission’s recommendations within its own decision.
The CMP project still needs a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetlands permit, an ISO New England section 1.3.9 approval and a U.S. Department of Energy presidential permit.
Municipal approvals also are required for construction of project components such as substations and transmission structures. The type and number of permits will vary, depending on location.