Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ruled that the secretary of state didn’t abuse his discretion in interpreting state law or by declining to conduct a hearing on disputed petitions. Furthermore, she wrote that there was a “competent record” to support the findings.

“The court made the right decision today. Mainers deserve a vote on CMP’s corridor,” said Sandi Howard, a leading opponent of the project.

But the CMP-aligned Clean Energy Matters said the judge’s decision will likely be appealed to the state supreme court.

The CMP proposal calls for construction of a 145-mile transmission line to bring 1,200 megawatts of electricity from Hydro-Quebec to the New England power grid. Most of the transmission line would follow established utility corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles of wilderness owned by CMP in western Maine.

The lawsuit contended some notaries hired by opponents of the New England Clean Energy Connect violated state law by engaging in other campaign activities, and that some of the signatures were forged.

The secretary of state rejected some of the signatures – 16,332 in total – but found that there were enough valid signatures to surpass the threshold of about 63,000 signatures by 3,050 votes.

Jon Breed from Clean Energy Matters said the secretary of state’s decision flies in the face of state law that aims to prevent conflicts of interest of notaries. “Regardless of where anyone stands on this issue, we should all agree that ballot access should not be illegally obtained,” he said.

Unless the state supreme court intervenes, the judge’s decision sets the stage for a costly statewide campaign leading up to the November vote.

Clean Energy Matters already has spent about $7.2 million and Hydro-Quebec has spent $2 million to promote the project. Most of that money has gone to television, digital and radio ads, but CMP spent $100,000 on private investigators who delved into opponents’ petition-gathering practices.

Supporters say the New England Clean Energy Connect would benefit Maine and the region by lowering carbon emissions by the equivalent of more than 700,000 vehicles, while also reducing fossil fuel usage and stabilizing electricity costs.

Opponents say the project would create environmental damage and hurt homegrown solar, wind and biomass projects in Maine.

The project, which was conceived to meet Massachusetts’ green energy goals and is funded by Massachusetts ratepayers, is moving forward despite the ballot proposal: The New England Clean Energy Connect already awarded more than $300 million in contracts for upgrading transmission lines and clearing land for the project led by Central Maine Power.

Project officials said they expect to have remaining regulatory approvals by this spring. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has signaled support, but hasn’t given its formal approval. The Army Corps of Engineers also must sign off on the project.

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