Cianbro employees guide the top of the first pole of the NECEC hydropower transmission corridor onto its base in this Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021 photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

An appeals court judge on Thursday vacated an injunction that had prevented Central Maine Power’s parent company from starting work on the last 53 miles of a controversial hydropower project from The Forks to the Canadian border.

The ruling came after a Boston-based U.S. Court of Appeals judge ruled in January that the company could not start work on the northernmost leg of the $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project. 

Three environmental groups opposing the project, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Appalachian Club, filed for an injunction last November after the Army Corps of Engineers approved a key permit for the 145-mile project, which aims to bring hydropower from the Canadian border to Lewiston. That request was denied by a federal judge in December, but the appeals court granted it in January. 

The ruling was a “victory for Maine’s clean energy future,” said Thorn Dickinson, president and CEO of NECEC Transmission, the CMP offshoot building the corridor as part of a partnership with Hydro-Quebec.

“The NECEC has met every benchmark in a rigorous, three-year permitting process,” he said.

Nick Bennett, staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said he was disappointed by the injunction ruling. The council will continue to pursue its case against the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Energy for allegedly failing to comply with a federal law requiring an environmental impact statement.

Even though the injunction has been lifted, there are some conditions in the Army Corps permit that limit construction scheduling in the 53-mile section of the corridor, which is not alongside existing power lines like the remainder of the project.

The Army Corps permit states that tree-cutting should be done “between Oct. 16 and April 19 of any year to the maximum extent practicable and no tree cutting shall occur between June 1 and July 31 of any year to minimize potential impacts to federally threatened northern long-eared bats.”

An NECEC Transmission spokesperson said the company is evaluating when it can start work on that section.