Adam Desrosiers of Central Maine Power speaks to reporters prior to the installation of the first pole of the New England Clean Energy Connect near Moxie Pond in The Forks in this Feb. 9, 2021 photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The companies behind the $1 billion hydropower corridor that Mainers voted against in a referendum on Tuesday filed the first of what are expected to be a series of lawsuits to save the project, calling the citizen’s initiative “unlawful.”

NECEC Transmission and Avangrid Networks filed the lawsuit in Maine Superior Court on Wednesday alleging that Question 1 violates legal principles that include vested property rights, separation of powers and the contracts clauses in both the Maine and U.S. constitutions.

The lawsuit is one of several options the companies who run the corridor are expected to take in its fight to keep building it. Proponents said the project would benefit Maine and help the state meet its climate goals, but detractors said it could harm the environment and not provide enough benefit to the state. At stake are multiple millions of dollars in potential benefits and hundreds of jobs, according to NECEC.

The two companies also asked the court for an immediate injunction preventing retroactive enforcement of the initiative against the project. NECEC said it expects the court to rule on the injunction promptly.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment from the court that the initiative is unlawful and cannot be enforced against the project.

NECEC continued work on the project Tuesday after the vote, drawing the ire of project critics. Construction began in early 2021 and so far about 124 miles of transmission corridor have been cleared and more than 120 structures, including poles, have been installed.

“We have followed the rules every step of the way in a transparent and public process and have received every regulatory approval required for this project to proceed,” Thorn Dickinson, president and CEO of NECEC Transmission, said.

The lawsuit angered some corridor opponents, who said it aims to “overturn the will of an overwhelming majority of Maine voters.

“CMP should respect the vote of Maine citizens,” Sandra Howard, director of No CMP Corridor, said.