Initial reaction to DEP draft approval for NECEC project

On March 13, 2020, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a draft order approving Central Maine Power’s (CMP) New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project with conditions. Maine Audubon staff previously provided extensive public comment to the DEP, focusing on the proposed project’s impacts on wildlife and habitat. Our comments demonstrated that NECEC, as proposed, would have substantial wildlife impacts, particularly in the “new” 53.5-mile corridor through Maine’s North Woods, and that significant mitigation and compensation measures could and should be taken to reduce those impacts if the project were permitted. 

Among other things, we are encouraged that the DEP’s draft order acknowledges that the proposed project would contribute to significant habitat fragmentation and that the proposed impact on habitat and habitat connectivity is unreasonable and must be compensated. We are similarly encouraged that DEP will only issue a final permit if CMP agrees to the following conditions:

  • Limiting the corridor width to 54 feet at its widest point (compared to the proposed 150 feet), reducing habitat impacts;
  • Maintaining approximately 14 miles of habitat connectivity in the new 53.5-mile North Woods portion, through preservation of a natural forest canopy or trees at least 35 feet tall across the corridor, protecting wildlife, wildlife movement, and rare plant species;
  • Permanently conserving 40,000 acres in Western Maine, executed by CMP within 5 years; and
  • Providing $1,875,000 to replace approximately 25 culverts that facilitate fish passage.

Maine Audubon will continue to review DEP’s draft decision and will offer additional feedback during the public comment period, which extends to March 27. 

In order to move forward, the project must acquire final permits from the DEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In addition, they face a challenge from a grassroots organization that has gathered enough voter signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot that would seek to overturn the project’s approval by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. 

Maine Audubon continues to seek information that demonstrates the project would have verifiable climate benefits; should that be the case, the project must only proceed if significant measures are taken to mitigate and compensate for the project’s on-the-ground impacts to wildlife and habitat.