Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Run of the mill, normal things are not affected by this ordinance,” Belfast City Councilor Mike Hurley said after a public hearing on an amendment to the city’s noise ordinance to limit the use of megaphones after complaints about anti-mask protesters on a city corner. “It’s like the definition of [obscenity] — I’ll know it when I see it. I don’t think anybody walking around talking or with their kid riding an ATV has to worry about it.”
What we’re watching today
A new court ruling in favor of corridor opponents may give the Legislature another crack at the project. Central Maine Power and the administration of Gov. Janet Mills took a loss in court on Wednesday. Superior Court judge Michaela Murphy ruled the state needs to further analyze effects of the lease of roughly 33 state-owned acres in Somerset County that the utility will be using to build its $1 billion hydropower corridor from the Quebec border to Lewiston.
It is one of the most important developments in the long-running corridor saga, which is being fought on political, legislative and judicial fronts. Maine could vote in November on an anti-corridor referendum with myriad bills in the Legislature on the topic and the battle over the lease is just one of a few active lawsuits over the controversial project.
The lawsuit centers on a simple question: Does the lease “substantially alter” public land? It has its roots in a constitutional amendment passed by Maine voters in 1993. Any major changes are supposed to be approved with a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber.
Murphy’s ruling did not say whether the CMP lease substantially alters the land. But she said the state must issue a determination on that question before proceeding with a lease. The state did not do it until after it inked the first lease with CMP and revised it last year under Mills, a Democrat and the key political backer of the corridor project.
The result may not be a fatal blow, but it could gum up the works for CMP. The state could issue a determination that the transmission line does not equate to a major alteration of the property. If it rules the other way, the Legislature would need to approve the lease with a two-thirds vote. All of it could likely get challenged by opponents in court.
It looks as if two-thirds support would be nearly impossible for CMP to muster in the Legislature now. Mills has relied on a bipartisan coalition to kill anti-corridor bills in the past, but a new crop of lawmakers is more anti-corridor. Those forces formed a narrow majority in 2019. In a timing quirk, a legislative panel will hold a Thursday hearing on a bill from Sen. Russell Black, R-Wilton, that would explicitly expand legislative lease authority to include transmission lines.
Even if the Legislature votes down the lease, CMP has other options. They could simply buy more land around the state’s swath and bypass the issue. This would add money and time to the project, but it may not sink it with much incentive to continue construction.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Some Maine schools have been more proactive about vaccinating teachers than others,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Their prioritization has been different from other groups included in the first phase of the vaccination effort. Teachers’ unions lobbied hard for prioritization as states debated how to return to full-time in-person education, a debate that wasn’t as loud in Maine, where students have largely been able to attend class in person at least part-time.”
— “More Mainers staying at home during pandemic, driving up electricity use,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “The decrease in activities during the pandemic also led to a 4 percent decline in total energy consumption in Maine last year compared to 2019, with decreases in use by industrial and commercial buildings offsetting an increase in use by residences. The decrease is the same amount that occurred nationally, according to a study released Wednesday by CommercialCafe using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration comparing energy use in 2020 versus 2019.”
— “Janet Mills extends state of emergency as Maine races to get vaccines in arms,” Valigra, BDN: “Maine’s current emergency declaration ends on March 18. The declaration allows Maine to deploy all available tools to respond to and contain COVID-19. Under Maine law, proclamations of civil emergencies may only be issued in 30-day increments.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning by emailing email@example.com.
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