The first pole of Central Maine Power's controversial hydropower transmission corridor is prepared to be installed on Feb. 9, 2021, near The Forks. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A trial that could determine the future of a controversial billion-dollar transmission project in western Maine resumed Tuesday, when the jury heard from the defense.

The case involves a power line that was being developed by Central Maine Power Co. and its partners before Mainers voted it down at referendum in November 2021. CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, sued the state, claiming the referendum does not apply because it had made sufficient progress on the corridor before the referendum question was certified by the secretary of state. This progress, they say, established so-called vested rights.

Attorney Jamie Kilbreth, representing the intervenor Natural Resources Council of Maine, questioned Paul Franceschi, a vice president of Cianbro, which had contracts to build the power line. Kilbreth tried to show that CMP accelerated the project just as the referendum campaign was ramping up. He read from an email Franceschi wrote to Cianbro CEO Andy Vigue and colleagues in December 2020, immediately after learning the schedule would be expedited.

“‘In short Avangrid knows this is not the most productive, and will cost. But it seems they need to spend some money to ensure … what happens … to ensure that poles are set by the end of February for political reasons.’ See that?” Kilbreth said.

“I see it,” Francheschi said.

“Again, those are your words, right?” Kilbreth said.

“They are,” Francheschi said.

Under cross-examination, Franceschi said CMP seemed interested in the public relations value of getting the project underway.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday, and then the case will go to the jury.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.