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

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection on Monday rejected a claim by four lawmakers that tree-cutting in a controversial hydropower corridor under construction by a Central Maine Power Co. affiliate violated permit requirements.

DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim wrote lawmakers that there is no evidence at this time that the cutting around the New England Clean Energy Connect project violates or warrants a suspension of the department’s license. She said the department will continue to monitor corridor construction activities.

Tree-cutting resumed this month on the $1 billion electric transmission project in western Maine after a two-month hiatus over a federally protected bat.

The DEP’s response came after the four legislators visited the first segment of the project in a remote part of Somerset County and wrote to the DEP that the utility in charge of it cannot meet permit requirements because of the nature of the forested area, a claim the company denied. The lawmakers cited various irregularities they said they observed.

The corridor project is one of the largest and most controversial projects in the state’s history, with many environmentalists and residents questioning its value to the state.

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, who was one of the four legislators to visit the corridor and wrote to the DEP, said the department’s response is a “classic example of government not working the way it’s supposed to.”

“This is deeply disappointing, but not surprising,” he said. “The department continues with an attitude that I don’t believe represents them doing their job as a protector of the environment.”

The lawmakers also asked Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection to take jurisdiction over the project. The board is part of the DEP, which issued a permit for the project, but it can enforce environmental protection laws independently.

In a separate letter to the legislators on Friday, BEP Board Chairman Mark Draper said “procedural constraints” prevent the board from considering the request that the BEP handle appeals about the corridor.