Weed CA and Mt. Shasta water featured in documentary series

Weed, CA water rights, Mount Shasta and the topic of water bottling and water privatization will be the focus of the fourth episode of an upcoming series on food and water, produced by UK’s Fusion/LightBox Productions. Here’s a one minute trailer advertising the 8-part series. While the Weed area water protectors are only on screen for 5 seconds, starting at 0:34, they make their point, and the whole series looks like it will be worth checking out.

Episodes will be posted online shortly after the airtime, and the water program is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17. The first three in the series are available here.

TransCanada pitches west-east pipeline

Proposed project would bring crude to refineries in Quebec, Saint John

Link to Article with Videos

CBC News | Apr 2, 2013 9:28 AM ET 

TransCanada Corp. is seeking firm financial commitments from companies seeking to ship crude oil from Western Canada to refineries in Eastern Canada.

The Calgary-based company announced on Tuesday morning a bidding process that will allow interested producers to make binding commitments for space on the pipeline. Companies will have from April 15 to June 17 to enter into long-term commitments to use the pipeline.

The open-season process follows a successful expression-of-interest phase and talks with potential shippers.

TransCanada said if the next phase is successful, it plans to start seeking regulatory approvals later in 2013, and the oil could start flowing to Eastern Canada by late 2017.

The proposal would be to convert 3,000 kilometres of the company’s natural gas pipelines to allow for crude oil to be transported. The company would also be looking at building 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline from Quebec into Saint John.

The pipeline could carry between 500,000 and 850,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to the eastern refineries, according to the company.

Premier David Alward called the west-east pipeline proposal an historic initiative. Alward made the comments in front of the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John on Tuesday.Premier David Alward called the west-east pipeline proposal an historic initiative. Alward made the comments in front of the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John on Tuesday. (Robert Jones/CBC)

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said on Tuesday TransCanada’s announcement was a “positive step.”

“We welcome such proposals, because they can generate thousands of Canadian jobs and long-term economic prosperity — particularly in Quebec and the Maritimes — for generations to come,” Oliver said.

The federal minister said the proposed pipeline project must meet a series of regulatory reviews.

If the project moves forward, Oliver said it would be an important piece of energy infrastructure for Canada.

“Pipelines moving oil from Alberta to Quebec to New Brunswick would be among the most expansive and ambitious stretches of energy infrastructure in the entire world and would contribute to the energy security of Canada and all of North America,” he said.

Officials from the Saint John-based Irving Oil Ltd. have said in the past their refinery could handle western crude oil.

The Irving Oil refinery is the largest in Canada and can process 300,000 barrels of oil per day. Saint John also has a deep-water port and a liquefied natural gas facility.

Oliver said he has recently toured the Irving refinery and the Ultramar refinery in Levis. The federal minister said he plans to tour Suncor’s refinery in Montreal in the coming weeks.

3 days in Alberta

New Brunswick Premier David Alward responded to TransCanada’s announcement on Tuesday morning during a news conference held at the Irving Oil headquarters, calling it an “encouraging step forward.”

The New Brunswick premier said the pipeline proposal is a “historic initiative” for both the province and the country.

“We envision New Brunswick as Canada’s next energy powerhouse and Saint John as the anchor of that powerhouse,” Alward said in front of more than 30 Irving Oil employees.

“If we proceed, this project will strengthen our national and provincial economies and create jobs and economic growth today and for generations to come,” he said, suggesting the project has the potential to be as important to Canada’s economic future as the railway was in the past.

Alward said the pipeline will create high-paying jobs in New Brunswick and will keep workers in the province instead of heading to western Canada to find employment in the oilsands.

“I want to see the day when the mother or father, the son or daughter leave their New Brunswick home in the morning to go to work in the development of natural resources, they will return for dinner that night, not three or four weeks later,” he said.

Alward spent three days in Alberta in February talking to Alberta Premier Alison Redford and oil executives about the possibility of the west-to-east pipeline.

The project has the possibility of creating 2,000 jobs during the construction phase of the pipeline and a few hundred refining jobs after, according to some estimates.

Alberta has been interested in the project, because oil from that province is now being shipped to the United States, where there is a glut. That means oil producers are getting $20 to $40 less per barrel than the world price.

Those lower prices translate into lower royalties for the provincial government, and that is causing a potential multi-billion dollar deficit in Alberta. A pipeline to the Irving Oil refinery would allow Alberta producers to charge the higher world price.

A new pipeline would also alleviate Canada’s dependence on foreign oil and increase the value of Canada’s crude oil through shipping to world markets from the deep-water port of Saint John, said Alward.

Port Saint John president and CEO Jim Quinn welcomed the prospect of playing an integral role in bringing Canadian crude to global markets.

“This opportunity for Saint John and our port is phenomenal,” Quinn said in a statement.

The port, which for 50 years has been handling petroleum cargo for both import and export, currently handles the largest oil tankers in the world, as well as the largest crude carriers, he said.

TransCanada Corp. may build 1,400 kilometres of pipeline, extending its capacity into Saint John. TransCanada Corp. may build 1,400 kilometres of pipeline, extending its capacity into Saint John. (Courtest of TransCanada)

30 Facts About The Coming Water Crisis That Will Change The Lives Of Every Person On The Planet

By Michael, on March 4th, 2013

Link to Original Article.

The world is rapidly running out of clean water. Some of the largest lakes and rivers on the globe are being depleted at a very frightening pace, and many of the most important underground aquifers that we depend on to irrigate our crops will soon be gone. At this point, approximately 40 percent of the entire population of the planet has little or no access to clean water, and it is being projected that by 2025 two-thirds of humanity will live in “water-stressed” areas. But most Americans are not too concerned about all of this because they assume that North America has more fresh water than anyone else does. And actually they would be right about that, but the truth is that even North America is rapidly running out of water and it is going to change all of our lives. Today, the most important underground water source in America, the Ogallala Aquifer, is rapidly running dry. The most important lake in the western United States, Lake Mead, is rapidly running dry. The most important river in the western United States, the Colorado River, is rapidly running dry. Putting our heads in the sand and pretending that we are not on the verge of an absolutely horrific water crisis is not going to make it go away. Without water, you cannot grow crops, you cannot raise livestock and you cannot support modern cities. As this global water crisis gets worse, it is going to affect every single man, woman and child on the planet. I encourage you to keep reading and learn more.

The U.S. intelligence community understands what is happening. According to one shocking government report that was released last year, the global need for water will exceed the global supply of water by 40 percent by the year 2030…

This sobering message emerges from the first U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security. The document predicts that by 2030 humanity’s “annual global water requirements” will exceed “current sustainable water supplies” by forty percent.

Oh, but our scientists will find a solution to our problems long before then, won’t they?

But what if they don’t?

Most Americans tend to think of a “water crisis” as something that happens in very dry places such as Africa or the Middle East, but the truth is that almost the entire western half of the United States is historically a very dry place. The western U.S. has been hit very hard by drought in recent years, and many communities are on the verge of having to make some very hard decisions. For example, just look at what is happening to Lake Mead. Scientists are projecting that Lake Mead has a 50 percent chance of running dry by the year 2025. If that happens, it will mean the end of Las Vegas as we know it. But the problems will not be limited just to Las Vegas. The truth is that if Lake Mead runs dry, it will be a major disaster for that entire region of the country. This was explained in a recent article by Alex Daley

Way before people run out of drinking water, something else happens: When Lake Mead falls below 1,050 feet, the Hoover Dam’s turbines shut down – less than four years from now, if the current trend holds – and in Vegas the lights start going out.

Ominously, these water woes are not confined to Las Vegas. Under contracts signed by President Obama in December 2011, Nevada gets only 23.37% of the electricity generated by the Hoover Dam. The other top recipients: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (28.53%); state of Arizona (18.95%); city of Los Angeles (15.42%); and Southern California Edison (5.54%).

You can always build more power plants, but you can’t build more rivers, and the mighty Colorado carries the lifeblood of the Southwest. It services the water needs of an area the size of France, in which live 40 million people. In its natural state, the river poured 15.7 million acre-feet of water into the Gulf of California each year. Today, twelve years of drought have reduced the flow to about 12 million acre-feet, and human demand siphons off every bit of it; at its mouth, the riverbed is nothing but dust.

Nor is the decline in the water supply important only to the citizens of Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. It’s critical to the whole country. The Colorado is the sole source of water for southeastern California’s Imperial Valley, which has been made into one of the most productive agricultural areas in the US despite receiving an average of three inches of rain per year.

Are you starting to get an idea of just how serious this all is?

But it is not just our lakes and our rivers that are going dry.

We are also depleting our groundwater at a very frightening pace as a recent Science Daily article discussed…

Three results of the new study are particularly striking: First, during the most recent drought in California’s Central Valley, from 2006 to 2009, farmers in the south depleted enough groundwater to fill the nation’s largest human-made reservoir, Lake Mead near Las Vegas — a level of groundwater depletion that is unsustainable at current recharge rates.

Second, a third of the groundwater depletion in the High Plains occurs in just 4% of the land area. And third, the researchers project that if current trends continue some parts of the southern High Plains that currently support irrigated agriculture, mostly in the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to do so within a few decades.

In the United States we have massive underground aquifers that have allowed our nation to be the breadbasket of the world. But once the water from those aquifers is gone, it is gone for good. That is why what is happening to the Ogallala Aquifer is so alarming. The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world, and U.S. farmers use water from it to irrigate more than 15 million acres of crops each year. The Ogallala Aquifer covers more than 100,000 square miles and it sits underneath the states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota. Most Americans have never even heard of it, but it is absolutely crucial to our way of life. Sadly, it is being drained at a rate that is almost unimaginable.

The following are some facts about the Ogallala Aquifer and the growing water crisis that we are facing in the United States. A number of these facts were taken from one of my previous articles. I think that you will agree that many of these facts are quite alarming…

1. The Ogallala Aquifer is being drained at a rate of approximately 800 gallons per minute.

2. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “a volume equivalent to two-thirds of the water in Lake Erie” has been permanently drained from the Ogallala Aquifer since 1940.

3. Decades ago, the Ogallala Aquifer had an average depth of approximately 240 feet, but today the average depth is just 80 feet. In some areas of Texas, the water is gone completely.

4. Scientists are warning that nothing can be done to stop the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. The ominous words of David Brauer of the Ogallala Research Service should alarm us all…

“Our goal now is to engineer a soft landing. That’s all we can do.”

5. According to a recent National Geographic article, the average depletion rate of the Ogallala Aquifer is picking up speed….

Even more worrisome, the draining of the High Plains water account has picked up speed. The average annual depletion rate between 2000 and 2007 was more than twice that during the previous fifty years. The depletion is most severe in the southern portion of the aquifer, especially in Texas, where the water table beneath sizeable areas has dropped 100-150 feet; in smaller pockets, it has dropped more than 150 feet.

6. According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. interior west is now the driest that it has been in 500 years.

7. Wildfires have burned millions of acres of vegetation in the central part of the United States in recent years. For example, wildfires burned an astounding 3.6 million acres in the state of Texas alone during 2011. This helps set the stage for huge dust storms in the future.

8. Unfortunately, scientists tell us that it would be normal for extremely dry conditions to persist in parts of western North America for decades. The following is from an article in the Vancouver Sun

But University of Regina paleoclimatologist Jeannine-Marie St. Jacques says that decade-long drought is nowhere near as bad as it can get.

St. Jacques and her colleagues have been studying tree ring data and, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver over the weekend, she explained the reality of droughts.

“What we’re seeing in the climate records is these megadroughts, and they don’t last a decade—they last 20 years, 30 years, maybe 60 years, and they’ll be semi-continental in expanse,” she told the Regina Leader-Post by phone from Vancouver.

“So it’s like what we saw in the Dirty Thirties, but imagine the Dirty Thirties going on for 30 years. That’s what scares those of us who are in the community studying this data pool.”

9. Experts tell us that U.S. water bills are likely to soar in the coming years. It is being projected that repairing and expanding our decaying drinking water infrastructure will cost more than one trillion dollars over the next 25 years, and as a result our water bills will likelyapproximately triple over that time period.

10. Right now, the United States uses approximately 148 trillion gallons of fresh water a year, and there is no way that is sustainable in the long run.

11. According to a U.S. government report, 36 states are already facing water shortages or will be facing water shortages within the next few years.

12. Lake Mead supplies about 85 percent of the water to Las Vegas, and since 1998 the level of water in Lake Mead has dropped by about 5.6 trillion gallons.

13. It has been estimated that the state of California only has a 20 year supply of fresh water left.

14. It has been estimated that the state of New Mexico only has a 10 year supply of fresh water left.

15. Approximately 40 percent of all rivers in the United States and approximately 46 percent of all lakes in the United States have become so polluted that they are are no longer fit for human use.

The 1,450 mile long Colorado River is a good example of what we have done to our precious water supplies. It is probably the most important body of water in the southwestern United States, and it is rapidly dying.

The following is an excerpt from an outstanding article by Jonathan Waterman about how the once mighty Colorado River is rapidly drying up…

Fifty miles from the sea, 1.5 miles south of the Mexican border, I saw a river evaporate into a scum of phosphates and discarded water bottles. This dirty water sent me home with feet so badly infected that I couldn’t walk for a week. And a delta once renowned for its wildlife and wetlands is now all but part of the surrounding and parched Sonoran Desert. According to Mexican scientists whom I met with, the river has not flowed to the sea since 1998. If the Endangered Species Act had any teeth in Mexico, we might have a chance to save the giant sea bass (totoaba), clams, the Sea of Cortez shrimp fishery that depends upon freshwater returns, and dozens of bird species.

So let this stand as an open invitation to the former Secretary of the Interior and all water buffalos who insist upon telling us that there is no scarcity of water here or in the Mexican Delta. Leave the sprinklered green lawns outside the Aspen conferences, come with me, and I’ll show you a Colorado River running dry from its headwaters to the sea. It is polluted and compromised by industry and agriculture. It is overallocated, drought stricken, and soon to suffer greatly from population growth. If other leaders in our administration continue the whitewash, the scarcity of knowledge and lack of conservation measures will cripple a western civilization built upon water.

But of course North America is in far better shape when it comes to fresh water than the rest of the world is.

In fact, in many areas of the world today water has already become the most important issue.

The following are some incredible facts about the global water crisis that is getting even worse with each passing day…

1. Total global water use has quadrupled over the past 100 years, and it is now increasing faster than it ever has been before.

2. Today, there are 1.6 billion people that live in areas of the globe that are considered to be “water-stressed”, and it is being projected that two-thirds of the entire population of the globe will be experiencing “water-stressed” conditions by the year 2025.

3. According to USAID, one-third of the people on earth will be facing “severe” or “chronic” water shortages by the year 2025.

4. Once upon a time, the Aral Sea was the 4th largest freshwater lake in the entire world. At this point, it less than 10 percent the size that it used to be, and it is being projected that it will dry up completely by the year 2020.

5. If you can believe it, the flow of water along the Jordan River is down to only 2 percent of its historic rate.

6. It is being projected that the demand for water in China will exceed the supply by 25 percent by the year 2030.

7. According to the United Nations, the world is going to need at least30 percent more fresh water by the year 2030.

8. Sadly, it is estimated that approximately 40 percent of the children living in Africa and India have had their growth stunted due to unclean water and malnutrition.

9. Of the 60 million people added to the cities of the world each year, the vast majority of them live in deeply impoverished areas that have no sanitation facilities whatsoever.

10. It has been estimated that 75 percent of all surface water in India has been heavily contaminated by human or agricultural waste.

11. Sadly, according to one UN study on sanitation, far more people in India have access to a cell phone than to a toilet.

12. Every 8 seconds, somewhere in the world a child dies from drinking dirty water.

13. Due to a lack of water, Saudi Arabia has given up on trying to grow wheat and will be 100 percent dependent on wheat imports by the year 2016.

14. Each year in northern China, the water table drops by an average ofabout one meter due to severe drought and overpumping, and the size of the desert increases by an area equivalent to the state of Rhode Island.

15. In China, 80 percent of the major rivers have become so horribly polluted that they do not support any aquatic life at all at this point.

So is there any hope that the coming global water crisis can be averted?

If not, what can we do to prepare?

Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below…


Nestlé found liable over spying on NGO

January 30, 2013 | Financial Times

By James Shotter in Zürich and Louise Lucas in London

Link to original article.

Nestlé found liable over spying on NGO

By James Shotter in Zürich and Louise Lucas in London

Nestlé, whose clashes with activists over sales of baby milk formula in Africa led to

widespread boycotts in the 1980s, has been found liable in a civil case over the secret infiltration of a non-governmental organisation.

A Swiss court last week ordered Nestlé and the Swiss security company Securitas AG to pay compensation following revelations that an infiltrator had attended “workgroup” meetings of Attac, an anti-globalisation group. Some of those meetings took place at members’ homes.

The world’s biggest food company has been at pains

to repair relations with NGOs since the milk formula debacle, which led to new health regulations on its marketing.

The rise of social media and rapid dissemination of any wrongdoings – and a new generation of more socially conscious consumers – has further encouraged the maker of KitKats and its peers to address issues ranging from child labour on cocoa farms to saving water. Such initiatives are often carried out in partnership with NGOs.

But even though Nestlé has been fostering closer ties with its one-time foes, it has now been found to have been involved in the monitoring of activist activities.

The long-running legal saga began in 2008 when Attac filed criminal and civil allegations against Nestlé and Securitas after Swiss TV alleged that an Attac workgroup in the canton of Vaud had been infiltrated by a Securitas employee on behalf of Nestlé in 2003.The criminal case was dropped in 2009, but the civil case continued, and Jean-Luc Genillard, president of the civil court in Lausanne, has now ordered Nestlé and Securitas to pay compensation of SFr3,000 per claimant.

A spokesman for Nestlé said the company would like “to reiterate that incitement to infiltration is against Nestlé’s corporate business principles”, adding that it noted the judge’s decision “with disappointment”.

However, he said it was too early to say what, if any actions, Nestlé would take next. “We are unable to make any specific comments before the judge’s reasoning is released. If it turns out that a Nestlé employee has acted negligently, we will take appropriate action,” he said.

Securitas said it had stopped this sort of activity eight years ago and that the judge’s ruling had no impact on its current operations. The group said it was now waiting for the judge’s written reasoning.

Attac said it was “very satisfied” that the civil court had condemned Nestlé’s and Securitas’s actions. “Nevertheless, we’d like to point out that we are continuing to critically observe the worldwide activities of multinational corporations.”

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.

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:


• 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.


• 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.


• 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.


• 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.


• 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.

Defending Water for Life in Maine at the Common Ground Country Fair

Making Quilt Squares at the Common Ground Fair

Defending Water for Life in Maine tabled for three days at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, ME. Organizers Denise and Chris spoke with hundreds of people about protecting water in Maine. We provided a couple interactive activities for fairgoers, including a poster sized “Anti-Bottled Water” pledge for folks to sign, as well as this art project to create quilt squares for our water quilt (pictured). Squares from the quilt have been contributed by people as far away as Bolivia. The purpose of the quilt is to raise awareness and increase connectivity about water by having people express how they feel about water through drawing, and then putting everybody’s piece together! Thanks to everyone who came by to visit us and contributed! It was great to see all of you and we look forward to next year!

Letter to UN on 1st anniversary of UN Right to Water Mandate

Defending Water for Life Coordinator Ruth Caplan helped draft this letter to the United Nations. Currently, we and other organizations are gathering signatures.  As soon as the signing is complete, we will post the final Letter here on the website…

Letter body:

Esteemed President of the General Assembly, UN functionaries, and State Representatives,

We are writing to express our great appreciation for the gains the United Nations has made in furthering the human right to water, and to highlight some of the progress and challenges to advancing that right.

It has now been one year since the historic General Assembly Resolution 64/292 recognized the right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. That resolution called on States and international organizations to supply the financial and other assistance needed to enable all countries, especially developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible, and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all. Since then, there have been a number of important positive developments including the Human Rights Council’s reaffirmation of the right to water, and the appointment and extension of mandate for the Special Rapporteur (formerly Independent Expert) on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque. Ms Albuquerque’s searching and methodical work on the human right to water represents a major avenue for deepening our understanding of what it takes to realize the human right to water.

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Thank you White Wolf Inn!

I am writing this letter to send deep regards and thanks to Sandi and her staff at the White Wolf Inn in Stratton.

Sandi generously hosted the Mother Earth Water Walkers when they came through Stratton on May 11. We all enjoyed excellently cooked and filling meals at the restaurant, and slept soundly in the Inn’s quaint and comfortable rooms…

…For those who did not hear about this event, the Mother Earth Water Walk is a ceremony envisioned and actualized by the Anishinabe Native American Tribe to raise people’s awareness of water across North America…

…Water is the source of all life, and if you start to think about it, you will begin to realize that it is a part of everything. By bringing salt water to fresh water, walkers are symbolically cleansing and healing our water…

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