Central Maine Power was planning to start clearing a path through Maine’s western woods for its controversial power line project on Friday, but a federal appeals court put that to a stop with a temporary injunction.
The decision comes the same day as the company won the last major permit the project needs. But that federal permit was issued even though the government did not provide a public comment period officials had promised to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
A lower court judge last month declined to bar construction of the northernmost section of the corridor while considering a challenge by three conservation groups to an Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project. But now a federal appeals court is granting a temporary injunction to give the groups time to argue for a longer stay while the permit case is adjudicated.
CMP’s lead on the project, Thorn Dickinson, says the company remains confident the project will survive all challenges.
“The significant economic and environmental benefit of the project to Maine and the state and the region remain strong. And that’s why I believe so much in it and why I think it’s so important for the state. But obviously while this legal process plays out we will not be doing construction and other activities in that section of the line,” he says.
That could be 25 days or more. Dickinson says the company was poised to start clearing the 51-mile section of corridor between Jackman and Caratunk, but now will pivot to upgrading already existing sections of the power line corridor.
And despite the setback, CMP has won the final federal approval the projects needs: a so-called Presidential Permit from the Department of Energy. That caught opponents by surprise, because the agency had promised Collins in writing that it would release a draft environmental assessment of the project and provide a 30-day public comment period — neither of which happened.
“It’s just an incredible disservice to Maine and Mainers who care incredibly about this project, and deeply want to be involved,” says Sue Ely, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation.
The agency did send a draft environmental assessment to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which quietly signed off on it. Asked for comment, a DEP spokesman said that the review process is controlled by the U.S. Department of Energy. Federal officials did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement to Maine Public, a Collins spokesperson says the senator believes the federal agency “should have followed through on a public comment process because it would have provided an opportunity for more Mainers to give feedback on the project.”
Several other legal challenges are still pending.