AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents of Central Maine Power’s proposed hydropower corridor signaled Thursday that they had enough signatures to get a question that would kill the project on the statewide ballot in November, slating a news conference for next week.
Say No to NECEC, a nonprofit that has been coordinating the referendum drive that kicked off in August, thanked supporters in a Facebook post and urged them to come to a Monday news conference at the State House where the group will make an announcement on signatures.
The group will need more than 63,000 signatures from Maine voters to make the ballot. Tom Saviello, a Wilton selectman and former state senator who is coordinating the drive, said Thursday that he wouldn not disclose the number of signatures the group has, but he teased that it had enough. Signatures must be verified by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office.
“I feel pretty comfortable that we’ll have good news on Monday,” Saviello said.
Even though it has not yet qualified for the ballot, the corridor battle is already an eventful and high-dollar campaign since CMP dumped $2.3 million into a political committee in the last quarter of 2019 that is advertising heavily to beat back the challenge.
The sides have also traded ethics complaints. Hydro-Quebec, the province-owned utility that would supply power to the regional grid through a 145-mile transmission line through western Maine, agreed to pay a fine of nearly $35,000 to the Maine Ethics Commission, the state’s campaign finance regulator, after it was late to disclose campaign spending.
Corridor opponents are operating through a web of entities. A dark-money group that has advertised against the project also contributed nearly $50,000 to the political committee that represents the main anti-corridor campaign effort.
The CMP-funded committee has made complaints against that group and Say No to NECEC alleging they violated law making entities register with the state and disclose donors if they raise or spend more than $1,500 in a calendar year to influence a campaign under certain conditions.
While the utilities are likely to vastly outspend opponents to save their $1 billion proposed project, they may enter the referendum campaign as underdogs. A poll last year for corridor opponents found widespread opposition to the project — particularly in Franklin and Somerset counties — and it is opposed by or has lost support from 20 towns.