East-West Bills Headed for Transportation Committee

In response to varying concerns about the proposed development of an East-West highway/corridor across Maine, some important bills are making their way through the legislature. Five of them will soon be coming up for a hearing before the Transportation Committee in April, where they will be taken up in a single session. They are:

LD 1209, “An Act To Prohibit the Use of Public Resources for a Privately Owned East-West Highway,” sponsored by Rep. Katherine Cassidy (Lubec): Prohibits the use of public funds or state-owned property for the development of such a highway/corridor, including preparation or study. Also repeals last session’s investment feasibility study (c. 147).

LD 1269, “An Act To Require an Independent Analysis of the Impact of and a Review Process for an East-West Highway prior to Development,” sponsored by Rep. Ralph Chapman (Brooksville): Requires, prior to the development of such a highway/corridor, a comprehensive independent analysis of all environmental, economic, and cultural risks and impacts on Maine’s residents and landscape, subject to public comment and site plan review. Also prohibits the use of public funds and repeals last session’s economic feasibility study (c. 147).

LD 870, “Resolve, Regarding a Study by the Department of Transportation of the Most Efficient Options for Improving East-West Transit and Transportation,” sponsored by Sen. Edward Mazurek (Rockland): Directs the DOT to study existing highways and rail lines to determine options for improving east-west transit and transportation in Maine.

LD 985, “Resolve, to Repeal the Requirement that the Department of Transportation Facilitate a Feasibility Study of an East-West Highway and Provide for Public Access of Certain Documents,” sponsored by Sen. Edward Mazurek (Rockland): Repeals last session’s investment feasibility study (c. 147) and its reimbursement, and specifies that any related documents are public and not confidential.

LD 362, “An Act To Prohibit Use of Public Funds for a Private Transportation Study,” sponsored by Sen. Linda Valentino (Saco): Prohibits the use of DOT funds to pay for a traffic and revenue study or finance plan in connection with a proposal for a transportation facility made by a private entity.

Maine’s current public-private partnership law (Title 23), omitting transparency and public oversight, sets the stage for the development of an East-West highway/industrial corridor to be a real possibility. (Private highways are not allowed under Maine law, and should remain so.) Whether private or public-private, such a corridor across Maine, potentially owned by international corporate investors, would certainly have wide-ranging impacts statewide on Maine’s communities, environment, recreational and local access, property rights, and quality of life. Supporting these bills, especially LD 1209 and 1269, could go a long way toward taking the proposed project off the table, and building in safeguards against corporate control of Maine’s transportation infrastructure and landscape.

With this important hearing before the Transportation Committee looming on the near horizon, it’s crucial for everyone concerned about the proposed East-West corridor to quickly come up to speed and begin preparing testimony.

If you are not able to attend the hearing, you can send written testimony to the Transportation Committee Clerk: Darlene Simoneau, 100 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333, Darlene.simoneau@legislature.maine.gov.  It is important that your testimony be properly submitted, or it may not be counted and included as part of the hearing review. The three formats are email, individual hard-copy testimony, and petition format hard-copy testimony. The hard-copy formats (20 copies) are the most effective; email does not get included in the committee member files. Written testimony is a powerful tool that counts. You can send additional copies to your local legislators when asking them to support these bills.

Complete up-to-date details on bill text, status, and scheduling are posted on the legislature’s website, www.mainelegislature.org; here you can also find East-West corridor–related testimony under LD 721. The Natural Resources Council of Maine (www.nrcm.org), the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club (www.maine.sierraclub.org), and the Hancock County Democratic Committee (www.hancockdems.org) are also watching and supporting these bills. For testimony guidelines, maps, and links to articles and events, visit www.stopthecorridor.org, the website of the statewide citizens’ coalition Stop the East-West Corridor.

 

Jane Crosen

Penobscot, Maine

Outside Mt Hood, Oregon snowpack is below average as the water year ends

April 7, 2013

GRANTS PASS, Oregon — Oregon’s tallest peak has raked enough moisture out of passing storms to claim the only normal snowpack in the state.

But the farther a river basin is from Mount Hood, the worse summertime flows look.

The latest snowpack maps posted on the Natural Resources Conservation Service show the rangelands of the John Day, Malheur and Owyhee basins in Eastern Oregon particularly parched, with the Klamath, Goose Lake and Harney basins to the south not much better off.

The Rogue and Umpqua basins in southwestern Oregon, and Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins in Central Oregon are mediocre. The Willamette Basin is near normal.

NRCS hydrologist Julie Koeberle says the water year started off wet, but a dry spell in February and March has left many locations far behind schedule.

Source:  http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/ee2f298805ac4cf183ff64d936d5f13f/OR–Oregon-Snowpack

Let The Public See Who’s Responsible For River Discharge

Oregonian Opinion Letter

April 6, 2013

By Travis Williams

Every day, millions of gallons of treated waste are pumped into our rivers and other waterways in Oregon from municipal treatment plants, industrial facilities and other sources. These discharges are allowed with permits issued under the federal Clean Water Act, and most often people meet the standards for cleanliness set within those permits. Most of these pipes are underwater, discreetly discharging treated waste unseen, but sometimes problems occur and visible pollution results along our rivers.

This was the case for me and many others last summer on the upper Willamette. While paddling a canoe with an Oregon Parks and Recreation ranger, we encountered a massive plume of wastewater that was darkening easily a third of the river’s width. This plume extended downstream about a half-mile. It smelled horrid and turned the Willamette’s normal light blue-green hue to nearly black.

Because I’ve worked on this river for 13 years, I knew that there was a nearby mill and that it was likely something was amiss with its discharge to the Willamette. As it turned out, I was correct. Yet if I hadn’t known about this discharge ahead of time, I would not have been able to see from the river that there was a permitted discharge; there was no contact information or company name posted anywhere nearby.

I found out that for weeks, river users had been trying to figure out what that plume was. Those paddling and fishing the river saw and smelled the plume, but there was no indication of where it was coming from or why it was occurring. There are many pipes in Oregon waters, most with no indication of where they are. In essence they remain hidden until something goes wrong. This should change. When problems occur, river users should have a direct, inexpensive and easy way to gain information from the river — in the form of a basic sign.

It makes sense to have a simple sign placed along the riverbank to indicate that there is a discharge point under the Clean Water Act. The sign should include the permit holder’s name and phone number, as well as contact information for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. At times the general public is the first to spot trouble in Oregon’s waterways, and it makes sense for river users to be able to get in touch with the permit holder.

Two states that are very different politically, New York and Tennessee, both require signs at such discharge points. The Oregon Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee recently considered a bill to require signage at such discharge points, but the opposition from both cities and industry was fierce. They seem to fear those who fish, boat and paddle knowing about these discharge points, and providing basic contact information.

It’s time to remedy this gap of knowledge about our public waters. Signage is effective, inexpensive and direct. The public right to know on our waterways is the right way to go.

Travis Williams is riverkeeper and executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper. He is author of the “Willamette River Field Guide.”

Source:  http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/04/let_the_public_see_whos_respon.html

Conservation groups to file lawsuit over Klamath River water flow

Associated Press  April 4, 2013

GRANTS PASS — Two conservation groups warned federal agencies Thursday they plan to sue to get more water devoted to protected salmon in the Klamath River.

Oregon Wild and WaterWatch of Oregon filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue. They object to a new water management plan for a federal irrigation project that straddles the Oregon-California border south of Klamath Falls, saying they are afraid it will produce a repeat of 2002 conditions that saw tens of thousands of adult salmon die.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation implemented a new plan governing how much water goes to farms and how much to fish before NOAA Fisheries Service finished reviewing it for potential harm to threatened salmon. At the time, the agencies said they had cooperated closely in developing the plan, which was based on the latest scientific information, and it was better to start the irrigation season with the new plan, than change to it later. NOAA Fisheries is due to finish the Endangered Species Act review later this month.

The Bureau of Reclamation and the NOAA Fisheries Service both said they could not comment on the notice of intent to sue.

The notice said the new plan is providing less water for salmon in March than the old plan, which was approved under terms of the Endangered Species Act. That means less rearing habitat for young salmon.

“It seems like any opportunity to break the law to give more water to farmers, (the bureau) will take it,” said Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild’s conservation director. “The ultimate legal issue will be that, while scientific cooperation is wonderful, what scientific basis do they have for saying these flows are OK for salmon, when they are lower? There is this black box they operate in, and they are not accountable to the public.”

He added that the bureau is delaying the start of irrigation season because it drew down Upper Klamath Lake too much last year to provide irrigation, and has been shorting the river ever since to make up for it.

A big return of chinook salmon is predicted for late summer. That sets the stage for a repeat of 2002, when tens of thousands of adult salmon were stranded in low and warm pools and died of disease, Pedery said.

Source: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/04/conservation_groups_to_file_la.html

Oregon Reservoirs Low heading Into Irrigation Season

OPB | April 03, 2013 4:19 p.m. | Updated: April 03, 2013 6:59 p.m. | Bend, Oregon

Some Oregon farmers could have a difficult time finding water for their crops this summer.  That’s according to the state’s Water Resources Department.  With the spring irrigation season about to begin, state reservoirs hold only half their normal amount of water.

Barry Norris the state engineer for the Oregon Water Resources Department. He says the way things stand now, most reservoirs won’t be able to fully meet the needs of irrigators through the growing season.

Making matters worse, the Oregon snowpack, which Norris calls the state’s largest reservoir, is also below normal.

Norris says snowpack in the Malheur Basin is only at 26% of normal.

“We’re going to have a short water year this year, unless we have a very wet spring and summer like has happened in the past.  But conditions now are well below normal,” said Norris.

Norris sits on a subcommittee of Oregon’s Drought Council.  That’s a standing panel run by Oregon Emergency Management.

The subcommittee will meet next week in Salem to assess the latest conditions throughout the state.

Source: http://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-reservoirs-low-heading-into-irrigation-season/

Our View: Transparency needed on transportation projects

The public has the right to know what the state and its private roadwork partners are up to.

April 3, 2013 | Portland Press Herald

Link to Article

Back in 2010, the Legislature created an exemption to the state’s right-to-know law that you could drive a truck through.

click image to enlarge

A group responds to Peter Vigue, CEO of Cianbro Corp., while he addresses more than 700 people during a public meeting at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft on May 31, 2012, to discuss the proposed east-west corridor. A study on the project’s feasibility will cost Maine taxpayers $300,000, although Vigue says the project will be privately financed.

2012 File Photo/Derek Davis

Under this exemption, all records of public-private partnerships involving transportation projects of $25 million or more are sealed until the Maine Department of Transportation decides whether to go ahead with or reject a given project.

All submissions and communications are secret. The public can’t find out how it would be affected until late in the process. Even when the public is paying for the work, under this exemption the public has no right to know how its money is being spent.

This exemption is far too broad and should be tightened by the Legislature this year. Lawmakers should do that by passing L.D. 721 and bringing transparency to this type of project.

The weakness of the current law became instantly obvious with the very first project to come along since the law went on the books – the proposed east-west transportation, utilities and communications corridor that the Cianbro Corp. construction company has proposed to cut across the state from Calais to Coburn Gore.

Cianbro President Peter Vigue has publicly said it would be a privately financed project, built on existing rights of way, taking no land through eminent domain. But the public is paying up to $300,000 for a feasibility study. Beyond that, there is no information available.

People have legitimate questions about how this project might affect them. No one knows the proposed route (except its broad outline), and the specifics could affect property and business owners along the way.

The project is supposed to be completely privately financed, but how would that work exactly? What role would the state having in maintaining and policing the new corridor or in connecting it to the rest of the transportation network?

What would happen if the company that owned the corridor went bankrupt? This has happened in other states when public-private partnerships were used to build roads and the state was left holding the bag.

Although it has been stated that no public money would be needed for the east-west corridor, the public is already spending $300,000 for a study at a time when it is cutting key services elsewhere.

There may be simple answers to all of these concerns, but secrecy is a surefire way to destroy public trust.

A narrowly defined exception that would protect trade secrets and the company’s competitive position could be crafted to permit the kind of public oversight that would ease these concerns.

The Legislature ought to tighten up this exemption to the right-to-know law to make sure important projects have public involvement every step of the way.