A Maine judge dismissed a court challenge to a pending ballot question opposing Central Maine Power’s controversial hydropower corridor proposal on Monday, saying any ruling prior to the question being voted on in November would be preemptive.
Superior Court judge Thomas Warren said while CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, raised legitimate questions about whether the citizens initiative looking to overturn the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the New England Clean Energy Connect would violate the Maine Constitution, such a ruling is not necessary before the issue is put to a vote.
The question of constitutionality “must be reserved for future litigation if the proposed initiative is enacted,” he wrote.
The ruling is a victory for opponents of the proposed $1 billion project that would pipe electricity down from Quebec into the regional grid through western Maine. It means another attempt by CMP and its affiliates to defeat their question in the courts was thwarted.
Still, the effect of the question remains in question. Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has said the question may be unconstitutional, but it should stay on the ballot to serve as an “advisory referendum” even so, according to Maine Public.
Supporters of the project have fought the question in the courts ever since it collected enough signatures to get on the ballot in March. A former CMP employee and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce took a case arguing that a disqualifying number of signatures were collected illegally all the way to the state’s highest court. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ultimately affirmed Dunlap’s opinion that enough signatures were valid.
The race quickly turned into one of the most contentious during the 2020 elections, with millions of dollars spent in support of CMP’s project. One opponent group is suing the state in an attempt to shield its donors from Maine’s campaign finance regulator.
Meanwhile, approvals for the project continue. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit in May, and the Maine Land Use Planning Commission voted to grant CMP a land-use certification in January.
It still needs a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetlands permit, approval from the regional grid and a U.S. Department of Energy presidential permit. It also needs municipal approval for construction projects including substations and transmission structures along the corridor’s path.