(The Center Square) – Maine voters on Tuesday voiced their opposition to a 145-mile hydropower transmission line but approved a constitutional “right to food” and a plan to borrow more money to pay for transportation upgrades.
Question 1 on Tuesday's statewide ballot asked voters if they wanted 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?"
Voters approved the referendum by 59%, according to preliminary results.
Backers of Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect project, which would provide up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England region, vowed to press on despite its rejection by a majority of voters.
"We believe this referendum, funded by fossil fuel interests, is unconstitutional. with over 400 Maine jobs and our ability to meet our climate goals on the line, this fight will continue," John Breed, executive director of the group Clean Energy Matters, said in a statement.
Opponents of the hydropower corridor, who say it will destroy forestland and cost jobs, praised the outcome of the referendum and called on the utility to shut the project down.
"The vote sends a message to CMP that Mainers want to reject this corridor," Sandi Howard, of the group No CMP Corridor, said in a statement. "Mainers clearly don’t trust CMP to develop a project of this magnitude."
A similar referendum was knocked off the ballot last year by the state Supreme Judicial Court, but opponents of the hydropower line reworded the question to pass legal muster and gathered 80,000 signatures to put it on Tuesday's ballot.
Both sides have waged a costly and bitter public relations war for years over the details of the project, and whether it will negatively impact the state and its ratepayers.
Supporters and opponents of the project have poured nearly $100 million into ballot campaigns as part of efforts to sway voters, making it the most expensive ballot question in state history.
Maine voters also approved Question 3, which will make Maine the first state in the nation to enshrine a "right to food" in its state constitution.
The measure passed with 61% of voters supporting it.
Passage of the measure means the constitution will be amended to state: "All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to food, including the right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being."
The measure also outlaws "trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the harvesting, production or acquisition of food.”
Supporters say the move will promote locally produced food products and improve consumer health and safety.
Critics argue that the proposal will embolden poachers to target protected wildlife and push the limits on hunting regulations, citing support for the measure from hunting and fishing groups.
Meanwhile, Maine voters also approved a proposal authorizing the state Department of Transportation to borrow $100 million to build or improve roads, bridges, railroads, airports, transit facilities and ports and other transportation upgrades.
Question 2, which was approved by 72% of voters in Tuesday's elections, also calls for leveraging federal dollars to boost the overall amount available to $253 million.
Combined, this funding represents about 40% of what MaineDOT typically spends on transportation annually, the agency said.
"These dollars are critical to our mission," MaineDOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note said in a statement, thanking voters for approving the funds. "Without these funds, we simply could not do our job for the people who live, work, and travel in Maine."