Frustrated by what they say is the failure of legislative and political efforts to stop the proposed east-west highway, a small group of grandmothers is taking matters into its own hands. The grandmothers have started holding monthly vigils in front of Cianbro headquarters. Cianbro is the Pittsfield-based construction firm that wants to build a 220-mile-long closed access toll highway that would stretch from Calais to Coburn Gore. As Susan Sharon reports, the grandmothers hope that their quiet persistence will carry a powerful message.
Maine Grandmothers Unite to Halt Plans for New Hig
A group of grandmothers in the Pittsfield area gather to hold vigil against plans for a new highway across Maine.
Last month there were seven of them. This time there are 13 grandmothers standing in opposition to the east-west highway. They range in age from 54 to 90.
“My name’s Carol Ippoliti and I’m from Charleston. And I’m one of the organizers of this group of women.”
Wearing lime green t-shirts with an anti-east-west highway logo, the women unfold lawn chairs on the corner in front of Cianbro’s headquarters, and quietly unfurl banners and set out signs that make their position clear.
“And we’re concerned about the woods, the wildlife, about our homes, our farms,” Ippoliti (left) says. “We’ve seen some maps and we’ve heard that one of the proposed routes would, like, split our town of Charleston right in two.”
“I don’t like the idea of the noise, traffic, air pollution, and I just like our community as it is,” says Charlene Peavey, who turned 75 last week.
Peavey has 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She’s written letters to the editor before. But she says this is the first time she’s ever protested or publicly stood up for something in her life.
This issue, she says, is different. “This one just hits me in the heart.”
Many of the women didn’t know each other before they joined the grandmothers’ group. They come mostly from towns adjacent to Pittsfield. They have different political and spiritual views. But they’ve found common ground around their opposition to the east-west highway.
Darryl Brown is the manager of the project, which he says has been stalled for much of the past year. “That’s for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been heavily involved with the University of Maine with its offshore wind project,” Brown says, “and I’ve really spent much of my time on that up until just recently.”
But Brown says Cianbro remains committed to the east-west highway project and to the idea that it would make the state a player in the global marketplace.
Bonnie Bouchard (right), a grandmother from Charleston, says she appreciates what Cianbro does for the local economy. But she disagrees about the perceived benefits of what she calls a “super highway” through the woods and farms of central Maine.
“I know we’re going up against a lot of money here. And I know they bring jobs. I know they do a lot of good with hospitals and with a lot of local things,” Bouchard says. “We’re not saying that. We’re just saying there’s enough pavement in Maine. Let’s keep the soil and the trees and the woods.”
Joan Morrison has six granddaughters and comes from a dairy farm in the area that’s been in her family for 40 years. She doesn’t think an international corridor will fit in with the other small farms, small businesses and small towns that make this part of Maine special, and she hopes their movement will grow.
“We would like to think that this will keep growing as more grandmothers in central Maine realize there is action they can take,” Morrison says.
Susan Sharon: “Any grandfathers allowed?”
Joan Morrison: “Not allowed. No. No. We’ve gotten past caring what people think. I don’t know that the grandfathers are there yet.”
The grandmothers hold their monthly vigils in front of Cianbro headquarters on the fourth Friday of every month. Darryl Brown says the company respects their right to demonstrate peacefully, as well as their opinions.