Senate Candidates share position on E/W Corridor

Senate Question 10-29-12

Link to article and video.

 by WABI-TV5 News Desk – October 29th 2012 11:09am – Read more 2012 Candidate Profiles

The campaign trail is heating up as the campaign season winds down.

TV 5 has been featuring the three major candidates running to replace Sen. Olympia Snowe in the U.S. senate.

We asked our Facebook fans to post questions, and we then posed those to Angus King, Cynthia Dill and Charlie Summers.
Here is Monday’s inquiry.

Do you support the proposed East West Highway in Maine? Why or why not?

Angus King:
“I’m not ready to, to take a firm position on that. I’ve talked to Peter Vigue about it, I’ve talked to a lot of people in northern Maine most recently, just in the last few days. I guess I would say right now I’m skeptical. I need to understand what the benefits would be for Maine. I understand the benefits for Canada , for the Maritimes, and for Montreal, but I need to understand what would the benefits would be for Maine. I also need to understand why we can’t do what, what is being proposed, with the existing East-West highway in Maine, which is, which is the rail line. We already got a corridor straight through Maine, from the Mari-times into, into, into Quebec, and it’s been there for a hundred years. The line is there, the right away is there, we don’t have to spend a lot of money and, and do all of the environmental things to, to create a new strip through the state. So, I’m listening, the cases that would help the Port, it would help some of our great paper mills, and I’m very sympathetic to that, but I’m, I’m skeptical the benefits won’t be outweighed by the costs, particularly to run an entirely new corridor right through the state of Maine. But I do think we got to get natural gas to some of those paper mills, that’s the best thing we can do for them.”

Cynthia Dill:
“As a state senator, I’ve voted against using public money to fund a study for a private road. I don’t think that’s an appropriate use of government. I don’t believe that infrastructure should be privately owned, only to serve the interests of corporations that really just have a profit motive. So, the East-West highway, as it is currently proposed, is not something I support. If in fact, we as a community, as a state, as a country, need an East-West highway, if that would better the lives of people and businesses, then we should support it, using tax payer dollars and have it be open and accessible to everybody, on an equal basis. I do not believe that privatization of our infrastructure and our public ways is a good thing. It’s not going to help average working families. It’s gonna just help the corporations and super wealthy people that already have so much. ”

Charlie Summers:
“I think anything that can help with economic development is a good thing. My concern is the private property rights that are associated with that, so as this moves forward, I’ll be anxious to see how the legislature tackles it.”

E/W Alert! Canada to send Tar Sands Oil East, all articles here!

Plus this update: LePage’s private dealings with TarSand companies

Defending Water for Life in Maine and Stop the East-West Corridor members have anticipated exposure of the link between tar-sands oil and the East-West Corridor due to pressure to get the oil from Alberta to east coast ports.

While other environmental groups are focused on opposing the reversal of the Portland-Montreal Enbridge pipeline to transport tar sands from Montreal to Portland, we believe the East-West Corridor is a very viable option for this highly competitive industry.

While Exxon/Mobil wants Enbridge, TransCanada wants another route to the Atlantic.  Now, Canada has expressed a desire to ship tar-sands oil to Irving’s refinery in St. John’s, placing tremendous pressure on the development of the East-West Corridor through Maine.

Update article (11-14-12): TransCanada does not foresee major resistance to eastern oil pipe proposal.

Update article (11-8-12): Line 9 – Shipping Tar Sands Crude East.

Update articles (10-31-12): Eastern oil pipeline proposal technically, economically feasible: TransCanada.

Update article (10-31-12): TransCanada promotes crude solution.

Update article (10-12-12): LePage and the Maine DEP have met behind closed doors with Tar-Sands companies.

Here are a handful of articles on this topic (original post):

Another View: Turns out Canada does want to send oil east via pipelines

Goldenberg: Alberta’s oil should flow east, not west

Shipping oil to Asia? The route’s east, not west

Darryl Brown in Caribou – 2 Articles

The first article, East-West Maine highway may be privately built toll road, is from October 23 and announces Brown’s upcoming October 29 meetings in Aroostook County.  This provides a good outline of proponent talking points.

The second article, Proposed Highway To Bring Great Development, is from October 29.  It includes a video with many of Brown’s powerpoint slides, which are new.  One new selling point includes a multi-use recreation trail.  Also of note, the reporter says that MDOT was at the table.  This meeting was at Northern Maine Development Corporation, a subsidiary of Mobilize Maine.

There is a lot of information about Mobilize Maine and Eastern Maine Development Corporation in the Timeline of E/W Activity.  Although Mobilize Maine and the regional development corporations say that they promote “asset-based” development, the East-West Corridor is clearly not asset-based, but rather needs-based, i.e. to fill the “hollow middle.”

E/W Alert! Drug Forfeiture May Lead to Seizure of Township 37

In 2009, there was a huge pot bust in Washington County.  Then just last week, federal prosecutors in Maine said that they may seize most of Township 37.  There is additional land in surrounding townships that may also be seized, pending the outcome of this case.

About 5 miles of this land goes along the Stud Mill Road, and lies dead on the proposed East-West Corridor route.

Here are links to several news stories:

Drug Forfeiture May Lead to Seizure of Township, Jay Field, MPBN

Documents show path that led to massive Maine pot bust, David Hench, Kennebec Journal

Man killed self days before he was to testify about pot farm, Judy Harrison, BDN

Big drug bust, high stakes in Down East Maine, Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald

Four charged in 2009 Washington County pot bust, WCSH 6

Six Charged in Township 37 Marijuana Grow Case, DEA

Paper Industry mostly wants Rail Connection

Mill executives say Maine paper industry viable, but there are challenges

By Andrew Neff | September 26, 2012

Link to Original Article

Maine paper mill executives (left to right) Keith Van Scotter, CEO of Lincoln Paper and Tissue; Bill Cohen, director of communications at Verso Mill in Bucksport; and George McLaughlin, manager of manufacturing for Great Northern Paper in East Millinocket talked about challenges and future prospects for the industry at the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce Early Bird Breakfast in Bangor on Wednesday morning, Sept. 26, 2012.

Maine paper mill executives (left to right) Keith Van Scotter, CEO of Lincoln Paper and Tissue; Bill Cohen, director of communications at Verso Mill in Bucksport; and George McLaughlin, manager of manufacturing for Great Northern Paper in East Millinocket talked about challenges and future prospects for the industry at the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce Early Bird Breakfast in Bangor on Wednesday morning, Sept. 26, 2012.

BANGOR, Maine — Executives from three of Maine’s paper mills told 50 businesspeople that reports of the demise of Maine’s pulp and paper industry have been greatly exaggerated.

“Maine is 92 percent forested,” said Keith Van Scotter, president and CEO of Lincoln Paper and Tissue. “If paper and pulp is going to be made anywhere, it’ll be made in this state, so it’s not a dying industry. It’s a viable industry.”

Van Scotter; Bill Cohen, director of communications for Verso Paper Corp. in Bucksport; and George McLaughlin, manager of manufacturing for Great Northern Paper in East Millinocket, were the main speakers at Wednesday morning’s Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce Early Bird Breakfast.

Van Scotter added that pulp and paper is being used to make rayon clothing in the Far East, opening up a whole new market.

Cohen provided some interesting facts to show how crucial the industry is to Maine’s economy. He said there are more people employed nationally in the pulp and paper industry than in the auto industry, and that the average paper industry job in Maine pays about $60,000 a year. He added that $450 million in annual salary checks are sent out by Verso to employees with Maine addresses.

Chamber president and moderator John Porter asked the panelists about what workforce issues they face now and in the future.

McLaughlin talked about the graying of the current workforce and a shortage of younger, skilled workers to replace them.

“Our average age in the workforce now is 57, so we have a challenge in hiring younger workers with the right skill set,” he said.

Talk shifted to the cost of doing business, specifically electricity.

“The main issue is our general lack of access to natural gas. We need a pipeline,” said Van Scotter. “Another is this state’s overbuilding of our electrical grid.”

McLaughlin talked about the prohibitive expense of having to run a backup boiler on oil recently.

“Oil is not an option to make paper today. It’s too expensive,” he said. “We need that pipeline. We could be around for a long time, but without that, who knows?”

The price of oil is making transportation expensive as well.

“The biggest factor is cost of fuel,” said McLaughlin. “If we could get more customers converted to rail, it would lessen our cost considerably.”

Cohen said as little as two years ago, 70 percent of shipping by his mill was done by rail and 30 percent by trucks. Now it’s 40 percent rail and 60 percent trucking.

The rising costs of toll roads is making shipping by truck even more costly.

“Our toll cost per travel mile is almost 50 cents per mile,” said Van Scotter.

Expanding shipping by railroad, expansion of Maine’s rail network, and building an east-west highway were all on the three executives’ wish lists.

“Everything that comes to our plant comes by truck,” said Van Scotter. “Everything that leaves goes by truck. The east-west highway would be a big help.”

Porter asked the panel about the federal and state regulation of the paper industry.

“First, compliments to the governor and Legislature for looking at regulations to make it less cumbersome for business while still protecting the environment,” said Cohen.

Van Scotter said although Maine is more heavily regulated than many other states, it’s ongoing trends in federal regulation that cause concern.

“This presidential administration is worse, and the previous one wasn’t much better,” Van Scotter said. “It’s frightening.

“We’re all in favor of a cleaner environment, but if no one has a job, it doesn’t do much good.”

One of the last topics was competition, specifically from foreign countries.

“We’re in a global economy and the new model has pluses and minuses,” said Cohen. “This gives us an opportunity, but it also has unique challenges.”

Chief among them are foreign tariffs, subsidies, wage rates and government aid.

“The biggest challenge is foreign companies with access to free and unlimited working capital, which we don’t have,” said Van Scotter.

McLaughlin referred to mills that are reopening in Quebec and Nova Scotia, citing the current U.S.-Canadian exchange rate as well as the subsidies the mills get from the Canadian government.

The event was the first of four in the Chamber’s “business revolution” topical programs. Others include the transportation and higher education bonds on the November ballot and a look at health care.

Peter Vigue takes east-west highway gospel to forest resources group

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff | Sept. 13, 2012, at 11:44 p.m

Link to Original Article & Video

BANGOR, Maine — Given its location, if Maine is to prosper in the evolving global economy, it must take advantage of every potential opportunity that it can.

And when it comes to competing, the state needs to address some major shortcomings in terms of getting goods and products to major markets in the Midwest and such major Canadian cities as Montreal, Cianbro Corp. Chairman and CEO Peter Vigue said Thursday during an address to movers and shakers in the forest products industry.

The solution, as Vigue sees it, is the proposed east-west highway, which has been talked about for decades. The effort to get the private toll highway built recently got a boost when Vigue decided to lead the charge.

Vigue spoke about the proposed toll highway at the Sea Dog Banquet & Conference Center at the invitation of the Forest Resources Association, a national organization that represents all segments of the wood fiber supply chain, including landowners, land managers, wood suppliers, wood buyers and others, according to its website.

Joel Swanton, northeast regional manager for the association, said association officials thought it would be a good idea to invite Vigue to speak because many of the association’s Maine members had questions about the project and its potential effects on their industry.

Vigue said the people behind the state’s forest resources industry

could be important allies in the project.

“One of the things I enjoy the most is when people come together to work together and collaborate to enhance and improve their industry, and that is something that is badly needed in the state,” he said. “You folks do it on a routine basis and I compliment you for it, particularly in an industry that is so important in this state and has such a rich history — and I believe a history that will be around for a long, long time to come.”

According to Vigue, one only need look at a map of North America to understand how vital the 220-mile highway across Maine would be to the state’s long-term economic viability.

The Georgia-Pacific Corp. mill in Old Town and the Lemforder plant in Brewer are just two of the many major employers that have left Maine in recent years.

The reason, Vigue says, is simple: “The cost of transportation costs and the cost of energy.”

Vigue said that one association member told him that evening that it cost $1 a mile to transport wood.

“That is a big deal considering where we live and where we’re located,” he said.

Those are some of the reasons why Vigue says he is leading the effort to get the highway built.

Proposed is a 220-mile toll road that would run a fairly straight shot from Calais due west to Coburn Gore, Vigue said. The road would be built on private rights-of-way, would run below the proposed “Restore” national park area and avoid existing protected natural resources.

Despite some questions about potential new costs to the industry, such as toll costs, there was virtually no opposition to the planned road during Thursday’s meeting.

The highway, however, is not universally supported.

Earlier this month, the Piscataquis County town of Monson became the first Maine municipality to impose a six-month moratorium on privately owned highways and utility corridors. The vote to that end was unanimous — 47 to 0.

Anti-east-west highway signs also have been popping up in Dover-Foxcroft and other nearby communities. Some concerns cited by foes include fears that land will be taken by eminent domain and potential adverse environmental effects — concerns Vigue has been working to allay.

“We have no intention of taking people’s property, we have no intention of impacting people in a negative manner,” he told association members Thursday night. “All I ask you to do is this: Look at our track record. Look at how we treat our people. Look at how we treat Maine companies and look at our history,” he said referring to Cianbro Corp.’s history in Maine.

While Vigue spoke to forest resources association members in the Sea Dog’s Penobscot Room, about a dozen protesters outside held up signs decrying the project.

The rally was organized by Friends of Piscataquis Valley, which is part of a larger coalition called Stop the East-West Corridor, said Sidney Mitchell of Dover-Foxcroft, a founding member of the former group.

“Our effort is all around the goal of no corridor, no compromise. We don’t want to mitigate, we don’t want to compromise with these people. They’re just into speculative profiteering and they will take this state.”

Mitchell called the proposed highway a “four-lane trucking route from Canada to Canada. Just that physical abomination is going to wipe out our entire area. Southern Piscataquis [County], northern Penobscot [County], all those highly populated rural areas will be destroyed by this.”

Another issue Vigue addressed Thursday was whether Canadian companies had more to gain from the road than Maine companies.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in Maine or in Canada. We’re all facing the same challenges” he said.

Asked about the time frame for the project, Vigue said plans call for lining up financial resources in the next nine months to a year. The next step, the design and right-of-way acquisition phase, is expected to take another three years and construction, three more years.

Darryl Brown now with Cianbro as Program Manager for East-West Corridor

Official offers details on East-West Highway plan to chamber

Barry Matulaitis, Sun Media Wire | Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Link to Original Article

JAY — “I can tell you in all honesty that I’ve never been as excited about a role as I am about this one,” said Darryl Brown, Program Manager for the East-West Highway project, at the Jay-Livermore-Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce meeting last Friday.

Brown is working with Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue, who has spearheaded the project. Brown explained that the concept of an East-West Highway has been discussed periodically by state legislators since the 1980s. Studies and evaluations were done, but nothing happened.

“Why was it never done? There’s no money,” said Brown. “Peter Vigue has come up with a new solution: Let’s do it privately.

“What we’re talking about here is connectivity…It provides great opportunities for Maine in terms of economic development.”

He explained that his job was to define the route and promote the program. Brown became involved, he said, due to his concern about the long-term health of Maine’s economy.

He noted that Maine’s median age is the oldest in the nation. In 2010, Maine’s gross domestic product growth was only 0.4 percent, ranking 46th in the U.S. That same year, the total non-farm employment growth was 0.1 percent, ranking 43rd in the nation. Brown cited Maine’s poverty level as 36th worst in the U.S.

“Are we satisfied with this? How can we be?” he asked.

Maine, he said, is united by nature with Canada, divided only by the U.S. border. The largest state economic investors in Maine — Emera, TD Bank, McCain, Irving Forest Products, and Oxford Frozen Foods — also have Canadian connections. One third of Maine’s foreign-bound goods are exported to Canada. A total of 37,000 Maine jobs depend on Canadian-U.S. Trade.

Brown showed a map displaying the major transportation routes involving Maine. These include the Ontario-Quebec continental gateway, and the Atlantic gateway. Maine provides the linkage between these two routes.

The proposed East-West Highway would be a private toll road extending from Calais to Coburn Gore. It will be built with private financing and be maintained by a private entity. It would be patrolled by Maine law enforcement agencies.

Brown noted that despite all of the north-south connections in northern New England, there is no major east-west highway.

“It’s connectivity to the markets, not only U.S. markets, but global markets,” he said. “The upper Midwest area is where the majority of industries are.”

He noted that from Coburn Gore, it is a relatively direct east-west line to Sherbrooke, where a major highway leads to Montreal and then Toronto, Detroit, and Midwest markets.

Additionally, said Brown, the East-West Highway would have major implications for ocean shipping in Eastport. Goods from foreign markets will be brought through an improved Panama Canal and up the East Coast to Eastport, or from the Suez Canal west to Maine. Eastport has the deepest ocean water of any sea port in the lower 48 states.

“Maine could become a pretty important hub for these shipping routes,” said Brown. “Here is a real opportunity for Maine to become a leader in dealing with ships bound for the United States and Canada.”

Rail also plays an important part in the transportation scheme, he noted.

Environmental challenges abound, and Brown said he has been working with the Nature Conservancy to find a route that would minimize environmental impact.

“This will be the largest construction project ever undertaken in the state of Maine,” he said. “It will require multiple permits.”

The road will be 220 miles long, crossing the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers along the way. There will also be numerous stream and wetland crossings. The project will be constructed so that it is ISO 14001 compliant, which means it will be subjected to the highest possible level of scrutiny by a third party.

“We have committed to avoiding conservation areas,” said Brown, who added that the project needs to be made vehicle-friendly as well.

The road corridor will use a total of 13,333 acres. It has six proposed interchanges with other roads and towns at this time, although that number could change. Tolls will be charged along the road in an attempt to recoup the $2.1 billion project cost.

Brown stated that the project vision is as follows:

-Providing economic opportunity and vitality to Maine, the Canadian Maritimes, and Quebec;

-Developing a long-term transportation, utility, and communications corridor;

-Improving connections to U.S. and Canadian heartland and Atlantic ports;

-Developing demonstration pre-clearance border crossings;

-Attracting additional investments to Maine’s rural communities;

-Reducing travel time and the carbon footprint;

-Revitalizing Maine’s ports and rail systems;

-Creating long-term jobs and expanding the tax base;

-Improving access for tourists to Maine.

“Maine can become the bread basket of the Northeast,” said Brown.

The road corridor will be 500 feet wide. Eminent domain will not be used for land acquisition. There will be wildlife crossings built above the highway to allow animals to cross safely and reduce the number of collisions with vehicles.

Canadian weight limits and tandem trailers will be used. Brown noted that the project will be constructed by Maine people and companies.

As far as the amount of time needed to construct it, he said that “in a perfect world, it will take us three years from now to get the permits and another three years to build the highway.”

Brown was also asked what percentage of the road will use existing corridors.

“We’re still defining that, refining that,” he said.

It will not pass along existing state and federal highways, but as much paper company land and woods roads as possible will be used.

“What’s a way to get this from being something for the Canadians to bypass the rest of Maine?” attorney Ron Aseltine asked.

Brown responded that the highway will be tremendous in its positive impact on tourism and will allow for greater economic opportunities in Maine as a whole.

“This is a partnership of everyone in Maine. It’s not just Cianbro,” he said.

15 Reasons the East-West Highway Will Never Be Built (Plus a Political Bonus!)

Analysis: Nails in the coffin

by Lance Tapley | Thursday September 6th, 2012

Link to Original Article

This past spring, out of the blue, Republican Governor Paul LePage and the GOP-controlled Maine Legislature funded a $300,000 study by the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) of the feasibility of a corporate-owned, toll superhighway across the middle of the state. It would go 220 miles from New Brunswick to Quebec, from Calais to Coburn Gore.

An East-West Highway had been proposed and dismissed several times in the past 70 years. Suddenly, it became hot. Just as suddenly, it became cold — well, lukewarm.

In August, out of the blue again, its chief legislative promoter, Republican Senator Doug Thomas, of Ripley, asked LePage to put the study on hold. The governor immediately agreed.

They had been spooked by the opposition in rural central Maine of a powerful populist, election-year pairing of grass-roots environmentalists and property-rights advocates — an Occupy–Tea Party fusion.

These folks were particularly incensed by the possibility the state might seize property — using its right of “eminent domain” — to ram the highway into existence to please the corporate powers.

The highway’s chief salesman, Peter Vigue, CEO of the big construction corporation Cianbro — whose speeches had gathered growing news-media attention as well as swelling numbers of sign-waving protesters — issued an unconvincing statement he was okay with what the officials decided. Then he slunk off stage.

The highway opponents — many in a Stop the East-West Corridor coalition — vowed to keep fighting. They assumed the highway, with its vaguely described “communications and utility corridor,” might rise from the dead again once Election Day is past.

But while it’s wise for opponents to keep a watch over the political graveyard, there are many reasons to believe the East-West Highway is not only dead, it actually has long been dead and its reappearance this year was that of a phantom, a ghost.

Here are 15 of those reasons, and we threw in a bonus reason to boot! (Consider them one for each Maine county.) They are roadblocks to the highway’s construction — and perhaps nails in its coffin. They zoom in on Vigue’s plan, but many pertain to any grand East-West proposal, though many wouldn’t block a mere upgrading of some of Maine’s existing roads. We’ll start with a few unnoticed roadblocks:

OVERLOOKED DEAL KILLERS

• SIXTY-ONE MILES OF A CANADIAN SUPERHIGHWAY The East-West Highway, says Peter Mills, director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, needs “full cooperation from Quebec.” It would require a superhighway from the Maine border to the existing Montreal expressway at Sherbrooke.

The peaceful, hilly countryside from the border to Sherbrooke is an important Quebec tourist and farming region, the Eastern Townships. It includes two national parks. Given the character of this region, it’s striking that our big neighbor — including its environmentalists and environmental-permitting process — hasn’t been engaged on this issue. Patrick Binns, the Canadian consul in Boston, says it hasn’t been much discussed in his country.

Here’s a huge Canadian barrier: light pollution from a superhighway and a big border-crossing station would be a major threat to Canada’s most important astronomical observatory, on Mont Mégantic in Mont-Mégantic National Park, only 14 air miles from Coburn Gore.

In fact, the International Dark-Sky Association has established the world’s first International Dark Sky Reserve around the observatory, encompassing 2123 square miles. A superhighway would have to pass through the reserve’s most protected zone.

This is a serious reserve. Sherbrooke — 37 air miles from the observatory — and 33 other cities and towns have taken light-reduction actions such as replacing 2500 outdoor street lamps.

• NATIVE AMERICAN OPPOSITION From the vague path that Vigue has sketched (see accompanying map), the superhighway might need to go through Penobscot Indian Nation land in western Maine, trespass on its Penobscot River water rights (now being litigated between the tribe and the state), or touch the many river islands the tribe possesses north of Indian Island, next to Old Town. (Vigue has never disclosed an exact path.)

“I personally am opposed to it,” says Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis. “And if indeed it does impact tribal land — which I cannot see how it would not — I think our tribe would be very diligent in its opposition.”

As sovereign nations, Native American tribes are not bound by environmental permitting deadlines, says Kristina Egan, a former top Massachusetts transportation planner and now a Freeport selectwoman.

• APPALACHIAN TRAIL The AT is a beloved national institution — and, officially, a national park. The AT would have to go over the superhighway or tunnel under it — apparently, near Monson or Bingham. And the highway would be visible from many vantages along Maine’s and the nation’s premier hiking trail.

The Department of the Interior would have to agree to a highway crossing. Venerable nonprofit guardians of the trail, such as the national Appalachian Trail Conference and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, may object to the highway. They are able to mount an aggressive lobbying and legal effort.

POPULAR RESISTANCE

• EMINENT-DOMAIN FEARS The highway “has united people across political lines,” says Chris Buchanan, of Defending Water for Life in Maine. She is coordinating the grass-roots resistance.

Although Vigue changed his tune — from saying he hadn’t ruled out eminent domain to saying it wouldn’t be used — many locals along the highway’s general route don’t believe him.

Vigue changed his tune on another issue directly relevant to the amount of land in play. He at first had talked enthusiastically about a 2000-foot-wide right-of-way for the highway, an electricity transmission line, and a natural-gas pipeline. A nearly half-mile-wide corridor times 220 miles equals 53,000 acres or 83 square miles.

He later reduced the width to 500 feet for most of the highway. (By comparison, the Maine Turnpike right-of-way is generally 300 feet.) Vigue’s shrunken, fuzzier intentions on the corridor also have met disbelief.

Transportation experts are more than skeptical that a superhighway-utility corridor across Maine could be built without the state taking property.

“They’re just going to convince owners to sell land?” Egan asks, with incredulity. In fact, an MDOT official told the Phoenix earlier this year that eminent domain would be used as a last resort.

Among the most adamant opponents to the seizing of private property by the government are Ron-Paul-libertarian, Tea Party Republicans, who often don’t see eye-to-eye with corporate Republicans. (Ask Mitt Romney about this last point.)

Senator Thomas was paying the most attention to this Tea Party constituency when, in a huge about-face, he not only opposed going forward with the highway study but also said he would introduce a constitutional amendment in the next legislative session to ban the practice of eminent domain. (First, of course, he has to survive the election, now not at all certain.)

Such a constitutional amendment is unlikely to go anywhere because it probably would prevent many new roads from being built, not to mention other public-infrastructure projects.

• GRASS-ROOTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL-GROUP OPPOSITION The home-grown environmentalist opposition sprang up with striking speed. Many people in the poor but beautiful countryside that the highway would traverse — hailing from communities like Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, and Guilford — saw their tranquil way of life threatened.

“Loss of Maine’s unique mystique” is how Buchanan describes the peril.

These people feared Vigue’s brand of promised regional economic renewal. They turned out in scores and even hundreds to protest whenever Vigue, bodyguards in tow, gave speeches in small towns. Thomas told the Maine Today papers that he had stepped onto a “hornets’ nest.”

Environmental specifics — the highway’s menace to water, wildlife, and air quality — provoked opposition from the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club. With sizeable memberships, seasoned staffs, and relatively deep pockets, these also are formidable opponents. Smaller groups joined in, including Restore: The North Woods, the Forest Ecology Network, and Environment Maine.

• FISH AND WILDLIFE OBJECTIONS Fishermen and –women, hunters, and other wildlife enthusiasts have not yet expressed opposition to a superhighway cutting the state in half. The highway would destroy or severely impact scores if not hundreds of trout streams and thousands of acres of animal habitat.

Judging by news-media coverage, the issue has yet to be discussed within the fish and wildlife constituencies. But the opposition could be considerable because these folks number in the hundreds of thousands of Mainers and out-of-staters from all walks of life.

“To get to your hunting camp in the North Woods, you might have to go 40 miles out of your way because the corridor will block your current direct passage,” says Jonathan Carter, of the Forest Ecology Network.

More important, animal movements would be blocked. Vigue has said some “wildlife bridges” over the highway could be constructed. But studies show wildlife-overpass effectiveness is limited.

Under environmental law, protection for animals has “to be designed for specific species,” Egan notes. An EPA report quotes one study: “Foxes, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes [appear] to shun interstate rights of way.” That study also found superhighways accounted for more than three-quarters of all animals killed on all roads.

At $1-million-plus a bridge, a lot of animal overpasses on a 220-mile road might be too expensive for a developer.

• INTERNATIONAL OPPOSITION TO UTILITY USE There would be widespread environmentalist opposition to a nonrenewable-energy corridor, especially if it were designed to transport controversial tar-sands oil from Alberta to Maritimes ports, as some environmentalists see likely.

Carter says international environmental-group opposition also would exist because the highway would contribute to global warming through the cutting down of forests (they are “carbon sinks”) and the increased carbon dioxide produced by thousands of vehicles using the highway daily.

• SECRECY In 2010 the Legislature passed, with no debate, a “Public-Private Partnership” law for transportation projects, which MDOT has said it would use for this project. The law has a clause exempting planning for such a road from the state Freedom of Access (freedom-of-information) law.
If the highway were built as a totally private project, there would be little to no requirement for the planning to be made public, including for feeder-road widening and interchanges. Maine people might find this secrecy hard to take.

REGULATORY NIGHTMARE

• ENVIRONMENTAL PERMITTING Many permits would be needed from state and federal agencies — such as Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Regulation Commission and agencies administering the federal Clean Water Act and endangered-species law.

The Clean Water Act is especially pertinent. The highway would have to cross or go near countless ponds, streams, and bogs, as well as cross the big Penobscot and Kennebec Rivers. It would have “major permitting challenges,” Egan says.

Even a supporter like Maria Fuentes, Augusta’s top lobbyist for highway interests, admits “the permitting may just be impossible.”

If agencies approved the highway, court battles would ensue. The prospect of a drawn-out struggle would weigh heavily on a would-be developer’s decision to attempt to build the highway.

• RAILROAD ALTERNATIVE Federal environmental law requires the “least environmentally damaging practicable alternative” be considered before a project is permitted.

A much less environmentally damaging and cheaper alternative already exists for moving freight and passengers between New Brunswick and Quebec: upgrading the active but little-used railroad line crossing Maine to the north of the proposed highway. (See map.) Half the line is owned by an American company, the other half by a Canadian firm.

But the modest use now of this rail alternative speaks poorly of the traffic potential of an East-West Highway. Passenger service ended in 1994, and “if there’s a great hue and cry for delivering freight,” why isn’t the railroad doing this? asks Mills.

ECONOMIC BARRIERS

• UNCLEAR PUBLIC AND PRIVATE BENEFITS For environmental-agency approval, the highway “has to have overwhelming public benefit,” says Egan. And for banks and corporations to finance it, a private benefit (profitability) would have to be foreseeable.

Vigue foresees gigantic container ships coming to Maritimes ports and Eastport’s deepwater harbor. Trucks would use the highway to haul containers to Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago.

It’s true that when the Panama Canal’s widening is completed in 2015, there will be competition for giant-container-ship traffic. But big ports on the East Coast, like New York, Baltimore, and Miami, already are dredging harbors and erecting huge cranes to grab this traffic.

And “containers go where the people are,” says Matt Jacobson, a former railroad and business-development official and now an executive at Oxford Networks, a communications company.

He adds: “I don’t think any port in Maine is going to benefit” from increased ship traffic because of the Panama Canal widening.

Even if Canada benefitted from container traffic, American regulators would determine whether the highway project would go forward. Benefits to the United States and Maine would be considered — not benefits to Canada.

Vigue says the highway would revitalize Maine’s “hollow middle,” as it calls it, but he has provided few specifics. Any economic benefit within Maine, say the highway’s opponents — besides some service-station jobs — would mostly go to big, out-of-state corporations, especially Canadian ones.

Canada already takes much wood from Maine to mill into lumber. Buchanan says the highway “would give Canada even more of a competitive advantage by streamlining their access to port.” (In 2008 Vigue’s team suggested to Mainebiz that the highway financier might be foreign.)

Many opponents fear the highway-plus-corridor is a scheme for an economic and environmental rape of Maine by big corporations, Canadian or American. Think: mountaintop mining, industrial groundwater removal, wind towers on the peaks, trash hauled into the state in enormous quantities.

Profitability for the highway owner would depend on toll amounts multiplied by traffic volume. A Vigue study in 2008 estimated tolls across Maine would need to be $100 to $200 for trucks and $25 to $50 for cars. Those sums might make it too expensive for many cars and some trucks.

A 1999 state study found a Calais-Coburn Gore highway to be not economically sound. “I don’t understand the practicality, the utility of it,” says Mills, of the highway.

• HIGH COST The cost is apt to be much, much more than the $2.1 billion in Vigue’s 2008 projections.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials doesn’t have cost-per-mile numbers of constructing superhighways because the numbers vary widely around the country, a spokesman says.

But a Michigan Department of Transportation official says the $44 million a mile cost to build a superhighway through a rural-suburban area in Michigan is possibly “comparable to what is proposed in Maine.” At that rate, a 220-mile highway would cost $9.7 billion. Although Vigue’s route might be cheaper to build on because it goes through a lot of forest, even half of $9.7 billion is more than twice his number.

The purchase of land alone for the highway might cost $1.4 billion, using International Paper’s calculation — revealed in a footnote to a federal appeals court decision — of how much it expects to receive from an East-West Highway developer for its 55 miles of Washington County’s Stud Mill Road ($353 million, or $6.4 million a mile).

The highway will be expensive, but a corporate developer will pay for it, not the taxpayer, right? But a developer usually needs to borrow money for such a project, and that might be too expensive.

According to Mills, a private developer for sizeable projects must pay a 10-to-15 percent interest rate on the money it borrows, contrasted with the 2-to-4 percent interest that government outfits like the Maine Turnpike Authority pay to bondholders. (Vigue’s financial projections have the private owner borrowing at 8 percent.)

This difference in the cost of borrowed money exists because interest earned by investors in public-agency bonds is exempt from federal and state income tax, along with the lower risk of lending money to a unit of government.

This is why, Mills says, that private financing of projects like the East-West Highway “is so rare here in the US.” Some experts think it would be unprecedented.

• BORDER DELAYS AND FEDERAL EXPENSE Even if significant traffic on the highway could be expected, post-9/11 Homeland Security, immigration, and customs controls probably mean big truck and tourist delays at the Canadian border.

Border controls are “a huge bureaucratic impediment,” Mills says. The US consul in Quebec has said Canadians are “intimidated” by the US border.

With border delays, Canadian trucks “aren’t going to save any time” by crossing Maine east-to-west instead of going over the top of the state, as many of them do now, says Jonathan Carter.

If the highway were built, the tiny US-Quebec frontier post at Coburn Gore would have to be enormously expanded. Given the nearly $60-million price tag for the recent upgrade of the US border station at Calais, tens of millions of dollars would have to be appropriated by Congress — and by Canada on its side — to improve the border crossings.

This optional spending is hard to justify in an era when governments have a hard time meeting essential expenditures.

• THREATS TO MOUNTAIN TOURISM For recreationists and businesses serving them in the forested Maine mountains, the highway would be a dramatic intrusion.

For example, it would be very visible from the state-owned Bigelow Preserve, which encompasses the 12-mile-long Bigelow Mountain Range and many miles of the AT. The preserve was created in a citizens’ initiative — a statewide vote — in 1976. Its defenders are passionate. (Disclosure: the author led that effort.)

Mountain tourism in the Bigelow-Sugarloaf area is significant, evidenced by the creation of the Maine Huts and Trails system, which now has three huts (small, rustic lodges) along a 45-mile trail. Twelve huts along 180 miles are planned. The trail serves hikers, mountain-bikers, cross-country-skiers, and snowshoers.

The superhighway would have to cross this trail. Opposition from Maine Huts and Trails’ powerful corporate backers, like LL Bean, is a possibility.

• FINANCIAL RISK FOR THE PUBLIC Only a few highways in the US have been owned by corporations, but a number of them have gone financially belly-up.

If that happened with the East-West Highway, and the state took it over, the taxpayers would wind up paying for repairs, snow removal, state-police patrols, toll collecting, and other expenses that Vigue now claims would be paid for privately. If the corporate owner couldn’t make a go of it, that would likely mean the state, too, would find it a money pit.

Opponents suspect the public would be asked to guarantee loans or kick in cash. Vigue insists no public money will be needed. But the 2010 public-private partnership law sets up a specific legal template for financial sharing between the state and private entities, and state transportation officials have said Vigue’s highway would be organized under the provisions of this law.

BONUS REASON: POLITICS

• PARTISANSHIP AND NONPARTISANSHIP Democratic politicians, who are somewhat less deferential to corporate interests than Republicans, have begun to discern that the highway is unpopular.

Many Democrats in the House voted for the $300,000 study, including Representative Herbert Clark, of Millinocket, Senator Thomas’s opponent in his re-election campaign. But Clark turned against it weeks before Thomas did.

“The whole thing doesn’t add up,” a pro-business Democratic state senator, Bill Diamond, of Windham, told the Press Herald on the subject of the highway. Democratic state senators, in fact, voted in a bloc against the highway study.

Apprehensions in the political class about the East-West Highway go beyond partisan politics and the Occupy-Tea Party grassroots folks. Peter Mills, for example, is a former Republican state senator and primary candidate for governor whose judgment is respected on many issues by people on both sides of the political divide.

Many thoughtful people believe big new superhighways should not be build ad-hoc — anything this huge should be carefully weighed against alternatives. Many transportation policy types feel Maine’s decaying bridges and roads should be repaired and rebuilt before mammoth new roads are constructed.

“The state of Maine should not build any additional capacity for transportation” until we take care of what we have, says former Democratic state Senator Dennis Damon, a prior chairman of the legislative Transportation Committee.

Given the number and size of these 16 roadblocks, the fact that Vigue’s idea is taken seriously is tribute to the reflexive deference paid in many political and news-media quarters to someone who — in Maine terms, anyway — represents Big Business.

Not that it’s 100 percent impossible that the highway will be built. True Big Business, such as the Canadian and American energy giants that might have the most to gain from the highway-cum-utility corridor, have something potentially game-changing on their side: Big Money and the propaganda (“jobs!”) and political influence it can buy.

Still, the roadblocks are immense. “A delusional idea,” Carter calls the highway. “Pie-in-the-sky ridiculousness,” says Buchanan.

Unless eminent domain is used, “there’s a 0.02 percent chance it’ll be built,” says Alan Caron, an experienced, moderate political hand and former head of GrowSmart Maine, the anti-sprawl group.

To return to the graveyard metaphor, it’s almost as if there’s a tombstone every mile for the rationale for the East-West Highway.

Press Coverage from East-West Highway Rally 2-14-12

Press coverage is listed below in three sections: 1) Print, 2) TV, and 3) Radio

note: due to conglomerate press ownership, some articles repeat.

1) Print

 

 

 

 

 

2)  TV

 

 

 

3)  Radio

 

East-West Highway Update 1-11-2012

Update 1-11-12:   Yesterday, LD 1671, the bill to fund the study was supposed to go into work session with the Finance and Appropriations Committee.  However, it was moved to the Transportation Committee and we are now watching to see when the work session will be scheduled.  Representative James S. Gillray (R-Searsport) is on the Transportation Committee.  Note below that it was the Searsport selectmen asking for support of the highway.  

Here is a link to the bill, LD 1671http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_125th/billtexts/SP057001.asp

 

Visit our East-West highway page for all the information:

http://defendingwater.net/maine/east-west-highway/