The lattice towers Central Maine Power said it is proposing for its New England Clean Energy Connect hydropower line from Canada to Lewiston. This image, looking northwest from Wilson Hill Road in West Forks Plantation toward the proposed transmission line, also contains a photosimulation of five years of vegetation growth that is 10 feet or less in height. Credit: Courtesy of Central Maine Power

Three parties, including Maine towns abutting a proposed hydropower corridor, are challenging a conditional permit for a $1 billion hydropower project granted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

They are asking the department for a stay to postpone its activity on a May 11 permit approval for Central Maine Power’s controversial New England Clean Energy Connect project, which would bring hydropower from the Canadian border through Maine. The project has garnered ongoing challenges, including the referendum aimed at reversing an earlier permit from the Maine Public Utilities Commission and several lawsuits. CMP is challenging the constitutionality of the referendum in its own lawsuit.

One application for the stay was submitted to the department last Friday by 14 parties, including the West Forks Plantation, the town of Caratunk and Kennebec River Anglers that were intervenors in the joint proceedings held last year by the department and the Land Use Planning Commission, which oversees the unorganized territories.

The petitioners claim that failure to grant a stay will cause irreparable harm to their livelihoods from the “irredeemable destruction of the natural environment.” They also challenged the environmental department’s decision-making.

Department spokesperson David Madore said he cannot comment until after the appeal deadline on Wednesday.

In a separate filing, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmental advocacy group, on Wednesday filed both a stay of the permit decision and an appeal of it with Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection. The board comprises seven citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.

The council is arguing that the permit is flawed and that the project would cause long-lasting damage to the environment. It said that the Board of Environmental Protection and not the Department of Environmental protection should grant permits for projects of statewide significance.

And on Monday, NextEra Energy filed a petition in Superior Court asking that the environmental department’s permit be vacated and reversed or that it be remanded for further proceedings. The energy company claims the permit approval is unsupported by substantial evidence, contains legal errors and is the result of an unlawful process and exercise of authority by the department.

In May, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled against NextEra’s challenge to the public utilities commission’s approval of the project.

The CMP project requires a series of state and federal approvals. The environmental department conditionally approved CMP’s request for a permit in May after what it said was 2 1/2 years of technical review. The Land Use Planning Commission granted its permit in January. The Maine Public Utilities Commission was the first regulator to grant a permit in April 2019. CMP still needs permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, a presidential permit to cross the border to Canada and potential permits from local towns in Maine.

Thorn Dickinson, president and CEO of NECEC Transmission LLC, a company set up by CMP to run the corridor project, called the efforts to stall the project “baseless.” He said the conditions in the environmental department’s permit, which include narrowing the width of the corridor to 54 feet and conservation of 40,000 acres of land, have “taken a good project and made it even better.”

“The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has analyzed and scrutinized the NECEC [project] for more than two years and found its benefits to Maine and our environment to be substantial,” he said. “This project has met every permitting benchmark and we will continue to move forward in the process despite our competitor’s best effort to stop it.”