AUGUSTA, Maine — An group opposed to Central Maine Power Co.’s $1 billion hydropower corridor asked the state to halt construction on Thursday, less than two days after Maine voters resoundingly rejected the project.
The move opens up another front in a complicated legal battle over the corridor. CMP and its affiliates have been at work on the project since a Tuesday election in which 59 percent of Maine voters passed a ballot measure aiming to kill the 145-mile transmission line that would bring Quebec hydropower to the regional grid to fulfill a Massachusetts clean-power request.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is considering whether or not to pull its authorization of the corridor after a lower-court judge ruled in August that the state had no authority to grant CMP a lease to public land in rural Somerset County. On Wednesday, CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, filed a lawsuit saying the voter-approved law is unconstitutional.
But the anti-corridor Natural Resources Council of Maine asked the department on Thursday to stop construction, citing the likely delay in sorting out the regulatory and legal case around the lease as well as the two months it will take for the new law to go into effect.
“It would be more than a dereliction of duty to to allow continued destruction of the North Maine Woods for another two months until the law becomes effective,” James Kilbreth, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, wrote in his filing.
Environmental groups were split on the corridor, which was chiefly opposed by a coalition of grassroots activists who ran a campaign financed almost solely by fossil-fuel interests rivaling CMP for share in the regional power market.
The campaign was the second-most expensive in Maine history, with energy companies on both sides spending $91.3 million before Election Day. CMP and its partners in the project spent 70 percent of the total haul in a campaign that lasted nearly two years.
The environmental protection department did not respond to a request for comment on the Natural Resource Council of Maine’s move, including a question on how quickly the state will consider it. But a top official running the project said its lawsuit was intended to keep workers on the job.
“We believe in this project and will continue to advocate for it because it is good for our state both environmentally and economically,” said Thorn Dickinson, president of the CMP affiliate building the corridor.