In early March, 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, requiring CMP to agree to significant, additional actions to minimize and compensate for the project’s impacts before the DEP issues a final permit.
Maine Audubon staff previously provided extensive public comment to the DEP, focusing on the proposed project’s impacts on wildlife and habitat. As noted in previous posts, NECEC requires approval from several regulators and agencies to be shovel-ready. Maine Audubon has focused our engagement on DEP permitting, whose review is most aligned with our wildlife and habitat mission. Our initial 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.
Having carefully reviewed the draft order, Maine Audubon is encouraged that the DEP acknowledges NECEC would cause significant habitat fragmentation and other unreasonable natural resource impacts that must be minimized and compensated for. However, while the Department’s conditions are laudable, several aspects of the draft order must be improved to achieve the Department’s intent to minimize and compensate for impacts, as well as match the project’s magnitude. For example, Maine Audubon recommends:
- Additional measures to retain mature forest canopy across the corridor to support animal movement across the landscape and to protect coldwater streams for Brook Trout;
- Specific, additional protections for significant vernal pools, including both the pool and the upland forest around the pool;
- Additional, off-site land conservation that is specifically managed for wildlife habitats impacted by the new corridor;
- Additional funding for Stream Smart culverts in the project area, as well as the condition that all new or improved project crossings are consistent with Stream Smart principles; and
- Protections against invasive species.
Maine Audubon’s full comments are available here. Before the project can move forward, it must acquire final permits from the DEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, the project faces a challenge from a grassroots organization that has gathered enough 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 the DEP’s draft approval is improved, consistent with Maine Audubon’s recommendations.