In one of its final votes of the session, the Legislature approved a joint order asserting that a lease negotiated between the state and Central Maine Power for the utility’s transmission corridor should have been approved by a vote by state lawmakers. While nonbinding, the order could affect a lawsuit brought by project opponents who say the lease agreements violated the state constitution.
The 28-6 vote in the Senate and the 66-57 vote in the House on Monday centered on a key claim in the lawsuit that’s currently in superior court.
A group of corridor opponents, including citizens, state lawmakers and conservation organizations, contend in the lawsuit that the state should have sought the Legislature’s approval before leasing roughly 33 acres of public land in the West Forks area to CMP.
During oral arguments last week, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy suggested that Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage negotiated leases without lawmakers’ knowledge, raising questions about whether those deals violated a constitutional amendment passed in 1993. It requires that any lease of public lands that substantially alters its use must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.
The order, approved Tuesday by both the House and the Senate, doesn’t carry the force of law, but it could have an effect on the lawsuit in superior court.
The Mills administration and the Bureau of Public lands last week rejected those characterizations and assertions by Justice Murphy that its lease agreement with CMP was done without lawmakers’ knowledge.
BPL also contends that the lease agreement negotiated during the LePage administration and signed off by the Attorney General’s Office — then overseen by Mills, the former AG — did not require lawmakers’ approval because there’s already a transmission line running through the property and therefore the altered use provision was not in play.