Central Maine Power’s hydropower corridor was dealt another potential delay Wednesday after a Superior Court judge in Portland ruled that the state must determine whether the $1 billion project will alter the land it crosses. If so, the Legislature would need to approve those leases.
The lawsuit challenged whether the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands legally leased two parcels of state land in Somerset County in 2014 to the utility for its New England Clean Energy Connect hydropower project.
It focuses on a part of the Maine Constitution that requires the bureau to first determine whether the corridor would reduce or substantially alter public lands. The bureau did not do that for the utility’s leases.
A 1994 amendment to the Constitution that was approved by voters in 1993 requires a two-thirds vote from both legislative chambers if the land use is determined to reduce or substantially alter public lands.
Justice M. Michaela Murphy ruled that the land leases do fall under the constitutional provision and that the bureau is obligated to determine whether the lands will be reduced or significantly altered by the controversial hydropower project. Counsels for parties in the lawsuit are to meet again on March 24 to establish the course of further proceedings.
The ruling is the latest effort by opponents to stop the corridor. On Jan. 15, the same day the corridor received its final major permit, a federal appeals court ruled that the company could not start work on the last 53 miles of the project from The Forks to the Canadian border. Oral arguments for that case are scheduled for March 30.
In February, opponents got enough signatures to get a referendum challenging the corridor on November’s ballot.
A spokesperson for the NECEC project said the company has no immediate comment and is still reviewing the decision.