Maine’s voter-approved law blocking the controversial hydropower corridor will take effect Sunday after a judge denied a request from the corridor’s builders to stop it less than 24 hours after hearing arguments in the case.
Judge Michael Duddy of the Business and Consumer Court in Portland denied a request from backers of the $1 billion corridor who tried to stop the law on grounds that the November referendum was unconstitutional and that they had made significant investments in good faith.
In a 55-page ruling, he said NECEC Transmission LLC and Avangrid Networks Inc., two companies affiliated with Central Maine Power Co., did not meet the burden of proof for a preliminary injunction, saying it was “not a decision the court reaches lightly given the countervailing considerations at issue.”
Factors weighed by Duddy included financial losses to the companies as they delayed construction, but he concluded that harm “does not outweigh the harm to voter confidence and participatory democracy that would result from preventing the initiative from becoming law” at this point.
Duddy said corridor backers’ argument that they have “vested rights,” or that they had spent enough and constructed enough of the project in good faith to be able to continue, did not apply. He also ruled that the referendum did not violate the companies’ constitutional rights.
The companies disagreed, saying in a statement that “we remain confident that the full legal process will ultimately conclude that question one is unconstitutional.”
The judge acknowledged that the case presented many difficult questions and that his decision is not the last word. The companies and their supporters can appeal his decision to Maine’s high court, which may rule on final points of law in the case.
The companies filed a lawsuit requesting the delay the day after Election Day, alleging the referendum violated legal principles that include vested property rights and separation of powers. Work on the project was halted last month after the Maine Department of Environmental Protection cited the referendum in suspending a key permit.
“This is a big win for Maine people,” Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the anti-corridor Natural Resources Council of Maine, said.