AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Secretary of State’s office announced Friday that a question that would have killed Central Maine Power’s proposed powerline project won’t appear on the November ballot, ending one the most high-profile local campaigns this year.
The action came after a Cumberland County Superior Court judge formally declared on Friday that the question that would have directed the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reverse its approval of a permit for the utility’s western Maine project “fails to meet the constitutional requirements” needed to get on the ballot.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had said he would not include the question on the Nov. 3 ballot if the Maine Supreme Court found the question to be unconstitutional. A panel of five judges from the state’s high court did so last week. Opponents of the project did not file a request for reconsideration within the five-day appeal period, which would have prevented the Supreme Court ruling from becoming a mandate.
The courts’ actions end perhaps the most expensive referendum campaign in Maine history. The campaigning arms of CMP and project partner Hydro-Quebec spent a combined $16.7 million through the end of June. For comparison, backers of a failed York County casino question dropped nearly $10 million.
The case will have long-standing implications for citizens’ initiatives going forward. The judges found the question to be outside the scope of a referendum question because residents do not have the ability to overturn the decision of an agency upon which the Legislature has bestowed decision-making authority.
The project still needs a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, a U.S. Department of Energy presidential permit and potential permits from Maine towns on the corridor’s route. Two pieces of the state-level process — the Department of Environmental Protection’s approval and a lease agreement approved by the Bureau of Public Lands — are ensnared in court battles.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated how much money opponents of the referendum spent during the campaign.