Central Maine Power’s controversial western Maine transmission corridor is allowed under state land use rules,  according to staff at the agency that regulates development in remote parts of the state.

Most of the proposed 145-mile transmission line would run on existing corridors that will be expanded, but roughly one-third will involve new construction in woodland between the Canadian border and Kennebec River that includes two protected areas.

In a memo Monday, staff from the Land Use Planning Commission said the power line, called New England Clean Energy Connect, is an allowed use in development districts as planned, as long as CMP follows plans to limit impact on wetlands and recreational areas.

In the protected Kennebec River Gorge and Appalachian Trail, CMP showed there were no alternative building sites and has plans to buffer the power line to limit negative impact to the environment and other uses in those areas, staff concluded.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposal at a Jan. 8 meeting in Orono.

An endorsement from LUPC, which oversees land use regulations in Maine’s unorganized townships and other remote areas, is among the remaining approvals CMP needs to build the $1 billion transmission corridor to deliver hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.

It is also waiting for a decision from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and other regional and federal approvals.

Central Maine Power plans to get permitting decisions and begin construction by spring 2020 and complete the corridor by 2022, according to a third-quarter results presentation from its parent company, Avangrid.

“While we look forward to the hearing in January, we will refrain from making any comment until a final decision is made” by the LUPC, Thorn Dickinson, Avangrid vice president of business development, said in a statement.

Opponents of the project said they were disappointed with the decision by the commission’s staff. It shows that voters in the state need to have their own say on the project, said Sandi Howard, director of Say No to NECEC, a group gathering signatures for a ballot referendum against the proposal.

“Once again we see that the fix is in on behalf of CMP in Augusta,” Howard said in a statement. “While the people of Maine are united against CMP’s corridor, the politicians continue to grease the skids for this terrible project.”

The draft decision is similar to one staff submitted to commissioners in September. However, it does not include a third protected area around remote Beattie Pond near the Canadian border.

In the original application submitted in 2017, CMP planned to build the power line through the protected area because it was too expensive to buy land a little farther away and too disruptive to bury the line. Commissioners in September deadlocked on certifying the project because of its impact on the pond, which has one seasonal camp and is accessed by a gated 27-mile dirt road.

A few weeks after the meeting, CMP asked for a last-minute change of the corridor route to skirt Beattie Pond. The company was able to secure a mile-long easement over land that was previously too expensive. In a filing, CMP said the alternative route would increase the project cost by $950,000.

The new route avoids the pond’s protected area entirely and is in a development district where a power line is allowed, commission staff said.

The power company has taken measures to limit impact of the 150-foot wide corridor on other protected zones. It plans to bury a portion of its line under the Kennebec River to avoid disrupting the area’s whitewater rafting and recreation businesses. Near its crossing with the Appalachian Trail, CMP intends to plant shrubs and other plants to obscure the power line.

Gov. Janet Mills backs the project, sweetened by a $258 million package to reduce Mainers’ power bills and fund broadband internet, heat pumps and electric vehicle chargers, and local economic development.

But there has been fierce opposition to CMP’s project since it was introduced. Environmental groups, recreational companies and local residents are concerned about the impact on the North Woods.

At least 17 towns along the transmission line have opposed the plan with symbolic votes. Companies that own natural gas-fired power plants in New England and stand to lose million of dollars from Quebec hydro power have funded campaigns against it.

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