The poles Central Maine Power said it is proposing for its New England Clean Energy Connect hydropower line from Canada to Lewiston. Credit: Courtesy of Central Maine Power

A controversial $1 billion hydropower project won its fourth key permit Wednesday from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project’s sponsor said.

Avangrid, the parent company of Central Maine Power, said the approval clears the way for construction on its proposed New England Clean Energy Connect project to start in the coming weeks.

The company already has announced more than $300 million worth of contracts to build the project, Avangrid President Robert Kump said. He said the company hopes to fill many of the 1,600 positions for the project through job fairs to be held across Maine this fall.

The project is being built along a 145-mile corridor that would take hydropower from the Canadian border through western Maine to the regional power grid. The Maine Public Utilities Commission, the Land Use Planning Commission and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection granted permits earlier for the corridor. It still needs a presidential permit to cross the Canadian border and potentially local permits. The company has said it expects to start construction by the end of the year.

The project has drawn ongoing criticism from environmentalists. It passes through 53 miles of largely undeveloped areas that remain a key point of conflict. The Appalachian Mountain Club, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club Maine filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps in late October after obtaining a copy of the Army Corps’ environmental assessment. The report, which was completed on July 7 but not released to the public, was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. It found the corridor would have no significant environmental impacts, the groups said.

The three environmental groups disagree, and are asking the court to dismiss what they say is a less rigorous report. They want the court to require the Army Corps to conduct an environmental impact statement that fully assesses the transmission line’s impact on the environment and communities of western Maine and evaluate CMP’s claims of climate benefits from the power corridor.

“The CMP corridor would permanently fragment valuable wildlife habitat and remove riparian forest cover from hundreds of streams in the last stronghold for native brook trout in the country,” Susan Arnold, vice president for conservation of the Appalachian Mountain Club, said when the lawsuit was filed. The Army Corps had no comment on the lawsuit.

Additionally, about 200 volunteers collected more than 23,000 signatures at 125 polling locations yesterday in an effort at a second referendum bid aimed at pressuring lawmakers to overturn the project, opposition group No CMP Corridor said Wednesday. An initial bid was struck from the 2020 ballot after it was deemed unconstitutional by Maine’s high court in August.

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Lori Valigra

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...