U.S. Rep. Jared Golden is concerned about what he calls a “lack of transparency” in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ review and permitting process for Central Maine Power’s controversial 145-mile transmission corridor through western Maine.
Golden, a Democrat representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, in his Oct. 16 letter to Col. William Conde, the commander for the New England District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, called on the agency to make public its response to an April letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that faulted the corps for not producing “organized and transparent information” about a permit required under the Clean Water Act.
Golden said in the letter that several of his constituents have asked that the response be released, but that the agency has failed to comply with those requests.
“Nearly six months later, we are still waiting to see your agency’s response. I strongly urge you to share your communications with the EPA with the public so that stakeholders can better understand [the Army Corps of Engineers’] plans to address the EPA’s concerns,” Golden said.
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The $1 billion transmission project, known as the New England Clean Energy Connect, would bring Canadian hydro power to customers in Massachusetts. That project includes 53 new miles of corridor and upgrades to 94 miles of an existing transmission corridor running through western Maine.
CMP signed a contract in June 2018 with Maine and Massachusetts regulators for project after a similar one, the Northern Pass, failed to secure key permits from New Hampshire regulators. The project comes as Massachusetts moves to increase the share of its energy sourced from renewables.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission has approved the project, while the Land Use Planning Commission deadlocked in September on a permit for the corridor over concerns about its impact on Beattie Pond. CMP has asked to amend its application to bypass Beattie Pond.
In an April 25 letter, the acting chief of the EPA’s wetland protection unit, Beth Alafat, faulted the Army Corps of Engineers for prematurely starting its permitting process under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
Alafat said that the transmission corridor would have a “substantial” impact on wetlands and other water bodies along the proposed route. She said that given the limited information available related to the Clean Water Act permit on March 26 when the Army Corp of Engineers started its permitting process, she said the agency “prematurely” issued a public notice and asked that the process start over anew.
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The transmission corridor has met with strong opposition from residents along the proposed route in western Maine. Numerous towns, including Farmington, Jackman, Jay, Livermore Falls and Wilton, have publicly signaled their opposition to the corridor. A poll commissioned by an opposing group in March found 65 percent of Mainers oppose it, with 88 percent opposition in Franklin County. Opponents of the corridor are also looking to take it to a statewide vote in 2020.
In his letter, Golden called on the Army Corps of Engineers to hold at least one public hearing in western Maine, saying that to move forward without a public hearing “undermines the federal government’s responsibility to take part in a meaningful process with the citizens it serves.”
Golden noted that public hearings were held for communities affected by two similar projects, the Northern Pass in New Hampshire and the New England Clean Energy Link in Vermont.
“It is critical that Mainers are able to provide input and voice their opinions about the permitting of a project that will have significant environmental and economic consequences for their communities. … [T]he [Army Corps of Engineers] should take similar steps so that residents in Maine are given the same level of engagement that was afforded to the proposed projects in our neighboring states,” Golden said in the letter.
Sue Ely, a clean energy attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposes the transmission corridor, applauded Golden for “standing up for Maine’s right to participate in federal permitting decisions.”
“The proposed CMP corridor is a massive project that has generated enormous public interest. It deserves a public hearing, and we are thankful that Congressman Golden has requested one,” Ely said Wednesday.