Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks to reporters in the Maine State House, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Augusta. Credit: David Sharp / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — The company building the controversial hydropower corridor from the Canadian border to Lewiston said Friday that it will temporarily suspend construction of the project following a request from Gov. Janet Mills, who has backed the project.

Mills called on the company to halt construction Friday while legal challenges to the transmission line and the successful November referendum aiming to block it are resolved. The head of NECEC Transmission, the Central Maine Power Co. affiliate that is building the corridor, agreed to the temporary suspension “until such time that the court acts upon our motion for a preliminary injunction.” 

Thorn Dickinson, CEO and president of NECEC Transmission, said in a statement that the recently passed initiative “is and remains unconstitutional.” The suspension will cause more than 400 Mainers to be laid off and require a stop to millions of dollars in future benefit payments made to customers, businesses and host communities, he said.

The suspension came after Mills, a Democrat, sent a letter to Dickinson, asking him to stop work on the 145-mile corridor to “give deference to the will of the voters” while the courts and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection consider challenges to the project.

“While you are not legally obligated to do so at this point, immediately halting construction in a voluntary manner will send a clear message to the people of Maine that you respect their will,” Mills said. “I strongly urge you to do so.”

Anti-corridor advocates had been calling on CMP to stop construction since voters rejected the corridor by a 59-41 margin in the Nov. 2 referendum election. But the utility company continued work on the project, which aims to bring hydropower from Canada to connect with the New England power grid, while calling the referendum “unlawful” in a new lawsuit.

The state is also considering whether to suspend a permit given to the company last year after a judge ruled in August that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection exceeded its authority in granting the utility company a lease on public lands. CMP is also challenging that ruling.

Mills backed the corridor project in 2019, after she was elected governor, citing the need for clean energy and the benefits promised by CMP. Former Gov. Paul LePage, who is running against Mills in 2022, has also favored the project, pointing to the taxes paid by CMP and the corridor’s potential to lower energy costs.