In 2014, Maine’s Bureau of Public Lands granted Central Maine Power a lease, in violation of the Maine Constitution, to cross 36 acres of public reserve land in the West Forks area to construct their destructive corridor to deliver power from Quebec to Massachusetts. I know this to be true because I was an architect of the constitutional amendment this lease violates.
The Maine Bureau of Public Lands is failing to following the straightforward process set out in the state Constitution.
It’s important to understand the history. Many years ago, Maine’s public lands were consolidated into about 400,000 acres, and for much of our state’s history, the government would issue rights for commercial use of this land for pennies on the dollar. This practice began to come to the forefront in the early 1970s when the Portland Press Herald printed a series of articles by reporter Bob Cummings that documented the importance of these lands, and how they should be used going forward.
After a unanimous vote out of committee in support of the amendment, the House and Senate approved different versions, ultimately bringing it before a conference committee, on which I served, to reconcile the differences into a measure everyone could agree upon. Our committee of three senators and three representatives wrote the language that the Legislature passed: 28-0 in the Senate and 96-1 in the House. Like all constitutional amendments, the measure then went to the voters of Maine, and an astounding 73 percent voted in support, making it the law of the land.
The Bureau of Public Lands operated well under this law, regularly getting legislative approval for transmission projects.
But for this for-profit corridor, rather than following the straightforward process set in place by our constitution, the bureau exceeded its authority by quietly entering into a leasing agreement that, much like the project as a whole, seems to be a bad deal for Maine.
In negotiations with the Passamaquoddy Tribe for this same project, CMP agreed to pay a minimum of $125,000 per acre; in contrast, the bureau issued a lease agreement for a mere $100 per acre. Once again, the people of Maine would receive mere pennies on the dollar for use of our public lands for corporate gains.
Also at issue is the order in which permits and the lease were granted. Maine law is clear: Public lands cannot be leased for a transmission project until after the Public Utilities Commission issues the certificate of public convenience and need. Yet the bureau issued the lease to CMP four years before the certificate was granted.
Unfortunately, when advocates brought this issue to light, the Mills administration again skirted the law, entering into a second secret lease agreement without legislative or public oversight, making her administration the second to enter into a backroom deal with CMP.
This action sets a dangerous precedent by allowing transnational corporations to operate above the law. CMP, owned by a Spanish company, and Hydro-Quebec stand to make billions of dollars from this transmission corridor, and the process that has unfolded during the permitting process has made a mockery of Maine laws.
That’s why I’ve joined other concerned Mainers in filing a lawsuit to protect our public lands from an illegal land grab by CMP. This unique group is made up of Republicans, Democrats, independents, legislators both past and present, nonprofits and everyday Mainers who care deeply for our public reserve lands.
While I don’t like the idea of suing our state, I believe that it is my duty, as someone who helped put these protections in place, to hold the bureau, and CMP, accountable to the people of Maine. Our public lands ensure that our natural resources will always be there for future generations of Mainers. We must follow due process, and we shouldn’t let foreign corporations exploit these assets for their exclusive financial gain.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard A. Bennett, an Oxford Republican, served in the Maine House from 1990 to 1994 and the Maine Senate from 1996 to 2004 and is a candidate for the Maine Senate in District 19.