A failed effort to get Maine’s secretary of state to split an upcoming ballot question opposing Central Maine Power’s transmission line project into three separate issues has gained new life in the form of a lawsuit.

Rep. Christopher Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, filed the suit last week in Cumberland County Superior Court. He argued that the November referendum question aimed at blocking construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect power line should be broken up into separate initiatives to give voters a chance to weigh in on three distinct issues.

A supporter of the project, Caiazzo first made his argument in May in a letter to Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, but it was rejected.

Aided by lawyers from the Pierce Atwood law firm, which represents CMP in various matters, Caiazzo now is asking the court to reverse the decision made by Bellows on the wording.

Construction already has begun on the $1 billion NECEC project, designed to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec through Maine to Massachusetts. But opponents of the 145-mile project hope to keep it from being completed, notably along a 53-mile stretch of undeveloped forest near the Canadian border.

Last year, Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court struck down an earlier ballot question from corridor opponents as unconstitutional. That led to a second referendum effort, and new language, for voters to consider this November.

This is how the approved question 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?”

But Caiazzo contends in the lawsuit that the question “raises separate and distinct issues that should be presented to the voters in separate questions …”

These are the suggested question changes he wants the secretary of state to consider:

“Do you want to require, retroactive to 2014, that the Legislature approve by a two-thirds vote any lease or conveyance of public reserved lands to be used for transmission lines and facilities, landing strips, pipelines, or railroad tracks?”

“Do you want to require, retroactive to 2020, the Legislature to approve the construction of any high-impact electric transmission lines in Maine, with a two-thirds vote required if a project crosses public lands?”

“Do you want to ban, retroactive to 2020, the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region?”

The lawsuit asks the court to vacate the approved question and remand the secretary of state to amend the question as noted.

A citizen group fighting the NECEC project, No CMP Corridor, said such an effort was expected.

“There’s never been a doubt that CMP would someday challenge our petition language,” said Sandi Howard, the group’s spokeswoman, “because from the start, CMP has been terrified of facing the will of Maine voters, its own customers.”

In a statement from Clean Energy Matters, the PAC supporting the project, Caiazzo said it’s in the public interest to have the best information possible before voting.

“It simply doesn’t make sense to cram three separate changes to Maine law into a single question when it’s reasonable to assume that Maine voters could have different opinions about the proposed changes,” he said.


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