PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A federal judge declined to intervene to stop construction of a 145-mile (230-kilometer) electricity transmission corridor aimed at bringing Canadian hydropower to the New England grid.
Three conservation groups sought the preliminary injunction to allow them time to argue for a more rigorous environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The lawsuit in federal court will proceed, but so will construction, under U.S. District Judge Lance Walker's decision Wednesday. The parent company of Central Maine Power plans to begin site preparation work in January.
The Natural Resources Council, one of the opponents, accused CMP of rushing to begin construction “before appropriate federal review has been completed and all the lawsuits challenging this project are fully heard and decided.”
Thorn Dickinson, of New England Clean Energy Connect LLC, praised the judge’s decision and said ground will be broken “in the coming weeks.”
The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect would provide a conduit for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower, reducing greenhouse emissions and stabilizing energy costs in the region, supporters say. Critics say that the benefits are overstated and that the project would destroy unspoiled wilderness.
The Sierra Club and Appalachian Mountain Club joined the Natural Resources Council in suing to force the Army Corps to conduct a more rigorous environmental impact statement instead of the less-stringent environmental assessment.
“Given the enormous impact this project would have on the woods, waters and recreational economy of western Maine, Mainers deserve an answer to why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted their assessment behind closed doors and failed to properly assess the widespread damage that would be done,” said Sue Ely from NRCM.
The Army Corps gave its approval in November. The project previously received approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Land Use Planning Commission and Maine Public Utilities Commission.
That leaves a “presidential permit” issued by the U.S. Department of Energy for the cross-border connection as the only hurdle.
The project, which would be fully funded by Massachusetts ratepayers to meet the state’s clean energy goals, calls for construction of a high-voltage power line from Mount Beattie Township on the Canadian border to the regional power grid in Lewiston, Maine.
Much of the project calls for widening existing corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of wilderness.
It would cross the Appalachian Trail and several hundred wetlands and streams, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.