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Letter to Representative: Vote to Oppose the East-West Highway

Attn: Representative Dennis Keschl

From: Chris Buchanan, 273 Manchester Road, Belgrade, ME 04917

chris(at)defendingwater(dot)net

(207) 357-1443

 

February 24, 2012

Dear Representative Keschl,

As one of your constituents I am writing to urge you to oppose LD 1671, An Act to Fund a Feasibility Study of the East-West Highway, that may come to the house floor as soon as next week.   I did testify at the public hearing and submit a document similar to this one at the work session.  However, I was disheartened by the disrespectful behavior of many members of the Transportation Committee during the public hearing and I hope that by communicating with you directly, my thoughts will be received openly.  Thank you so much Mr. Keschl for your time and consideration.

I have a number of very serious concerns about using public money to fund a study for private investors, the loss of local control that this proposal represents as one of the first major “public-private partnership” initiatives, and the environmental and economic impacts of this highway, which are critical.  Above all, I see a tremendous lack of long-term visioning for Maine’s economy and Maine’s people, and I urge you to take a step back and encourage your colleagues to do so as well.  My desire, that I believe we must share because I understand it is no easy task to represent a community of people in a political arena, is to see Maine’s people prosper.

I have compiled the following points regarding LD 1671 as clearly as possible because I feel so strongly about this that I am also organizing other people to oppose this bill.  Please do not allow this feasibility study to occur, for the following reasons:

Taxpayers funding a “financial” feasibility study, to see if private investors will profit.  During the public hearing, we learned for the first time that this study was, “really just a financial feasibility study,” according to Maine DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note.  They are not looking at routing, or environmental impact.  Rather, they are looking to see if the demand exists on Wall Street for this road, and if the toll road owners will make money.  Why should taxpayers do a financial risk assessment for private investors?

No way to limit the cost to taxpayers.  The RESOLVE asks for $300,000 of taxpayer money, then the Maine DOT puts the project out to bid.  According to Van Note, if the project requires more funding, they will not need to bring it back before the Transportation Committee, or request public permission.  This is highly concerning!  Taxpayers are signing a blank check for a private project.  At a time when Governor LePage and the GOP are supposedly reducing government spending by cutting social services, this initiative is contradictory and questionable.

What exactly does “Independent study” mean?  During his testimony at the public hearing, Bruce Van Note said three different things in favor of this highway:  1) That the Maine DOT can’t do the study because this project is a “special” case and requires specific expertise.  2) That the Maine DOT needs to do the study so that it is “independent” and unbiased towards anyone who may benefit from the project.  3) That the project would be put up for bid.  I have heard Senator Doug Thomas say that the study must be independent to protect the public interest.  I would like clarification about how these mixed messages will result in public protection, especially now that it is clear that the point of the study is not for the public, but for private investors.  This is confusing.

How much will a toll cost?  There is no way to control the cost, or to ensure accessibility to Mainers.  According to a source inside one of the potential highway investors, the toll is proposed to cost $75.  However, Canadian transports could pay up to $150 for the toll and still save money cutting across Maine.  Toll investors are poised to profit handsomely just from that traffic. For all the honey-coated appeals to Maine people, saying this will bring tourism and jobs, that is not the intended purpose.  The toll may be exorbitant, and exclude most users other than Canadian truckers, and multinational corporations.

Not for Maine communities, or tourists.  In addition to being cost prohibitive, the east-west highway is a limited access throughway from Quebec to the Canadian Maritimes.  When questioned about how this road would access Maine communities, Peter Vigue could only name two places along the route: North of Dover Foxcroft, and at Route 201.  The exit at Dover Foxcroft allows for containers to be exchanged at Brownville Junction.  There is an additional intermodal facility proposed at the Costigan railroad junctions.  To reiterate, the road is designed for Canadian transport trucks, then multinational corporations who want to extract raw materials from Maine to export to global markets.

Diminished local economic opportunity, and community vibrancy. This kind of little to no value-added globalization exploits resource-rich communities like ours.  Take a broad look at other communities that have been used for raw resource extraction: the Middle East, most of Africa, South America, Haiti… some of the poorest and highest conflict-ridden areas in the world.  We see the same equation there: Low cost, raw resource extraction by wealthy private investors to profit in the global market.  That economic model only benefits a few, at the expense of the rest.  It leaves communities in poverty because they no longer have value in their land to sustain themselves, and in conflict because people are powerless to meet their needs.  Do we want Maine to be another colony?  By caring for the health of our land, and listening to the people who live on it, we support local economic initiatives, small business, and community vitality.

Just today in fact, Mark Aube of Mobilize Eastern Maine wrote an article about what Maine needs to thrive.  It is all about allowing regional economic development, listening to local people, and reducing the state’s “paternal” role.  Here is a link to that article for your reference: http://bangordailynews.com/2012/02/23/business/catch-the-wave-to-a-better-economy/?ref=latest

Jobs?  I have heard many advocates say that this investment of public money for this private project is worth it for the economic stimulus it will bring to Maine.  I acknowledge that for a brief stint during construction, many people in that part of the state will be hired to use their “yellow muscle” to build this road.  However, these jobs will only last for the duration of the project.  In addition, as a private project with out-of-state investors, it is very hard to determine how many jobs that would actually be.  Investors seek the cheapest labor which may be Mainers, but they usually bring in out-of-state project leaders, and sub-contractors.  Finally, as noted above, I feel the overall impact of this road will depress the local economy.  Certainly, the road will depress local land values, decrease tourist appeal, increase pollution that makes the land less viable for farming and other local land use, as well as exploiting the resources that are the foundation of Maine’s value-added sectors.

No public voice + limited state regulation = an environmental and community disaster.  This is an entirely private project.  There will be no room for public advocacy after it leaves the State Legislature, despite the fact that the project will irreversibly transform the heart of Maine.  That is a huge infringement on individual rights, and local control.  Is this what public-private partnership is going to look like?

What can people do if any part of this project is unwanted?  Like all other private projects, investors will go through a regulatory permitting process for all their intended environmental impacts, in this case, including the feds.  Due simply to access to capital, community voices are hushed by big business all the time.  Individuals have peanuts compared to corporate coffers.  Facing the reality of this power imbalance, deepens our concern over this project. The feasibility study opens the door to one of the most signficant landscape and cultural transformations Maine has ever seen, with no feedback from Mainers.

Burning even more fossil-fuel – that doesn’t seem right.  Globally and nationally, we are running out of oil.  To meet our current demand, people are considering dangerous and costly projects like moving Tar Sands oil from Alberta, Canada to U.S. refineries.  Building another road, that would cause irreversible damage to the environment and local communities, is moving in the wrong direction.  It is not a creative or innovative solution, it is exactly the opposite.

Mr. Keschl, I urge you and your colleagues to create a long-term vision that values Maine’s strengths, and I welcome the opportunity to gather resources and collaborate with you on those initiatives.  As you know, Maine is a treasure with unique and incredibly beautiful ecology.  Maine people are creative, hardworking, and passionate.   We need to identify what the people here need to thrive for the long haul.  Prioritizing Canadian businesses, and multinational corporations that do raw resource extraction, is not the way.  Public funding for private investment, at the added cost of individual rights and local control, is not the way.  Let’s build on our strengths, not sell them out.

With respect and with goodness,

Chris Buchanan

chris(at)defendingwater(dot)net

2 comments to Letter to Representative: Vote to Oppose the East-West Highway

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