The New England Clean Energy Connect will build high-transmission lines alongside Central Maine Power existing poles such as the cleared area in Wilton from McCrillis Corner Road, pictured above, to Wilton Road/Route 156. New pole heights will range from 91 to 113 feet. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

REGION — On Tuesday, April 13, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows opened up public comment for the November 2 referendum ballot question that places restrictions and stipulations on the development of high-transmission lines. If passed, the citizens’ initiated act has the potential to block the New England Clean Energy Connect LLC’s (NECEC) corridor project.

The corridor is posed to bring Hydro-Québec (HQ) hydropower from Québec via a 145-mile high-transmission line to supplement New England’s power grid. NECEC has obtained all state and federal permits for the corridor, but is still securing local town permits throughout Maine.

The ballot question that could put a halt to this project currently reads:  “Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to vote on other such projects in Maine retroactive to 2014, with a two-thirds vote required if a project uses public lands?”

High-transmission lines are defined in the three-part petition as lines that are (a) 50 miles in length or more, (b) outside of a statutory corridor or petitioned corridor, (c) not a generator interconnection transmission facility, or (d) not constructed to primarily provide electric reliability.

The petition was filed by the NO CMP Corridor campaign which on January 21, turned in 95,622 signatures to the state, of which 80,506 were deemed valid. The petition needed at minimum 63,067 valid signatures to be certified.

Lead petitioner and former state senator Tom Saviello said that he was pleased with the initial wording of the ballot question.

“First of all, the secretary of state and our group did a great job pulling it all together; I appreciate that because it’s a complicated question and I actually generally like what I see because it actually makes it pretty clear, a yes vote says no by saying you’re voting to ban it,” Saviello said in a phone interview.

Bellows will be accepting public comments regarding the wording of the ballot question until 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 13 by visiting https://www.maine.gov/sos/form/certain-transmission-lines.

Saviello added that the ballot question may need some clarification as to the retroactive dates. According to the petition, the restriction of high-transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region would be retroactive to Sep. 16, 2020. Whereas, the ballot question’s requirement of the legislature to vote on projects utilizing public lands has the retroactive date of September 16, 2014.

According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the Upper Kennebec region encompasses about 43,300 acres “between the town of Bingham and Wyman Lake, north along the Old Canada Road (US 201) to the Canadian border, and eastward from Jackman to encompass Long Pond and westward to the Canadian border, in Somerset and Franklin Counties.”

The New England Clean Energy Connect’s proposed high-voltage direct current transmission line would run from Lewiston to Beattie Township on the Canada border and connect to Hydro-Québec’s infrastructure. NECEC

If passed, the restriction of high-transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region and the requirement of legislative approval of projects utilizing public lands would directly impact NECEC’s corridor. The NECEC high-transmission line’s route is proposed to run from Lewiston to Beattie Township on the Canada border where it would then connect to HQ’s proposed Appalaches–Maine Interconnection Line project.

HQ’s 64-mile corridor received provincial approval from Québec on April 14 and is awaiting final approval from the Canadian Energy Regulator which should reach a decision in the coming months.

“Today, we have reached a major milestone in this project, which will have a significant impact in the fight against climate change and generate economic benefits for both Québecers and our neighbors to the south,” President and CEO of Hydro-Québec Sophie Brochu said in an April 14 press release.

While NECEC LLC and HQ have promoted hydropower as an alternative to dirty energy, First Nations in Québec and the Innu Nation in Labrador have long spoken out against the environmental and cultural effects of damming. In regards to Québec’s recent approval of HQ’s corridor, Lucien Wabanonik, elected councilor with Lac Simon’s Band Council in Québec, wrote in an email that he hopes people in the U.S. will show more support for First Nations.

“So [I] am really hoping that peoples and organizations in USA will be supporting us in the survival of our culture and that we as a People can still be able to feed on our natural food sources,” he wrote.

The Penobscot Nation of Maine, the Innu Nation in Labrador and Québec First Nation communities Pessamit, Wemotaci, Pikogan, Kitcisakik and Lac Simon recently formed an opposition partnership against HQ’s and NECEC’s proposed corridors.

According to a March 30 press release issued from Indian Island, Maine, the Nations collectively wrote to the White House and to the Prime Minister of Canada denouncing further hydropower developments in their Québec-unceded territories.

The press release states, “The electricity being supplied by Hydro-Québec will be generated by 33 hydroelectric plants that are unconstitutionally located on the ancestral territory of the Innu, Atikamekw and Anishnabek First Nations in Québec. In addition, a large portion of it will be generated by the Churchill Falls hydroelectric station in Labrador, which caused the devastating flooding of thousands of square kilometres of Innu Nation territory, and for which Innu Nation has never been compensated by Hydro-Québec.”

The Nations are urging the Biden administration to repeal NECEC’s presidential permit for the corridor project and for the Department of Energy (DOE) to pursue an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). This study would evaluate the corridor’s impacts on both sides of the border and also assess the impacts on human communities.

Maine’s 2nd Congressional District House Representative Jared Golden wrote to the DOE in January regarding the department’s lack of transparency throughout the permitting process. He also raised concerns about the project’s limited environmental assessment conducted by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

First Nations in Québec and the Innu Nation in Labrador have long voiced what they consider to be environmental racism and cultural genocide imposed by HQ’s unconstitutional development in their territories.

Wabanonik spoke at the April 7 Megadam Resistance webinar about HQ and the provincial government’s continued disregard for First Nation territories.

“We’ve been trying for many years to try to come up with something that’s good for both societies that would be good for our people because at this time we live by a cultural genocide, we live by systemic racism, you name it, it’s happening now,” Wabanonik said. “It’s always been happening for many years now. Some of our communities are in dire poverty. They live beside a dam, one of our communities, it’s called Kitci Sakik, they are neighbors of our community here, not too far and they live beside a dam. They have no running water, they have no electricity, it’s just beside the bank. They don’t have anything of those services that we can usually consider to be a modern society in 2021.”

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