Stop the East-West Corridor gets a boost from Revised Transportation Law

The bill that is expected to prevent future development of Cianbro’s East-West Highway and Industrial Corridor idea passed into law unsigned by the Governor on June 26. The bill revises the controversial public-private partnership law for transportation projects to clarify that P3’s must comply with Maine’s Sensible Transportation Policy, which has guided Maine Transportation Policy and the Department of Transportation since 1991. The bill, LD 1168 was sponsored by Senator Paul Davis, R-Piscataquis, and broadly supported by opponents to the East-West Corridor, environmentalists, sportsmen and women, and small business owners. Opponents say that requiring Cianbro’s East-West Corridor proposal to meet the criteria outlined in the Sensible Transportation Policy Act will be impossible for the developers.

 

“We’ve been following this for over 3 years,” said Stop the East-West Corridor’s statewide coordinator Chris Buchanan. “We have read Cianbro’s proposal and attended most of Peter Vigue and Darryl Brown’s presentations, and we’ve been honest with people about what they say. Most people don’t like the idea.”

 

“This law makes it necessary for Cianbro, or any other private development corporation, to have public support before moving forward with a significant transportation project that profits them.” The bill created a reporting requirement so that both lawmakers and the public are informed annually by the Department about contracted public-private partnerships. “We believe that is important for transparency and accountability,” said Buchanan.

 

“The need for state legislation has been clearly demonstrated by the actions taken by local communities to enact local laws designed to protect their community from the proposed East-West Corridor when adequate state policy has been sorely lacking. Eight communities have overwhelmingly passed some form of local ordinance, be it a moratorium, referendum, local-self governance, or land use ordinance. These communities so far include: Abbot, Charleston, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Garland, Monson, Parkman, and Sangerville,” Buchanan said.

 

“It is remarkable that so many local residents are taking the initiative to protect themselves. It is telling how many people feel threatened and left vulnerable by Maine’s existing state laws. LD 1168 creates some protection for people who don’t want the highway part of Cianbro’s Corridor plan,” Buchanan said.

 

Over the past three years, Stop the East-West Corridor has focused on developing resources, advocating for transparency, and supporting a statewide coalition of decentralized local resistance to the proposed East-West Corridor. The website, stopthecorridor.org, describes members as, “A coalition of Maine residents.”

 

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Roadblock for East-West Highway/Corridor passed by the Maine Legislature

View original article by Jym St. Pierre on Maine Environmental News

A bill intended to slow down, if not stop, the East-West highway and utility corridor proposed by Cianbro corporation executives has been passed by both houses of the Maine Legislature.

The original bill, LD 1168, would have prohibited the use of eminent domain for the development, operation, management, ownership, leasing or maintenance of a transportation facility as a public-private partnership project. It also would have prohibited the use of eminent domain by a private business entity involved in a public-private partnership.

Grassroots activists, led by the Stop the East-West Corridor (STEWC), have been working for legislation to better regulate potential public-private partnership transportation projects. They negotiated a compromise with the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) to clarify language in state statute that stipulates public-private partnership projects must comply with the Maine’s Sensible Transportation Policy Act.

According to Chris Buchanan, Statewide Coordinator of STEWC, “This bill closes previously unaddressed loopholes and shortcomings in our law that became apparent when the East-West Corridor proposal came to the table.”

On Friday, June 12, the Maine House gave its final blessing to the bill. On Monday, June 15, the Maine Senate concurred.

Even though MDOT under the LePage Administration supports the bill, Gov. Paul LePage is expected to veto it just because he can.

Maine Voices: The real road to nowhere would be the east-west corridor

It’s time the state realizes this would be the surest path to environmental and economic degradation.

BY CHRIS BUCHANAN | SPECIAL TO THE PRESS HERALD | April 2, 2015

Link to Original Article.

BELGRADE — The proposed east-west transportation, communications and utility corridor has raised important questions regarding the state’s transportation policy.

Two bills have been introduced by Maine legislators to ensure the proper role for the state in transportation planning, maintenance and development, without increasing regulations or stymying infrastructure that is desired by local people. The bills would create an equal playing field for all significant transportation proposals that may be governed by the state’s law on public-private infrastructure projects.

L.D. 506, An Act to Improve Public-Private Transportation Partnerships, introduced by Rep. Ralph Chapman, D-Brooksville, and co-sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, will be the subject of a Transportation Committee work session Thursday.

The bill’s summary states: “This bill changes the law governing public-private partnerships to develop transportation facilities by removing the Department of Transportation’s authority to receive unsolicited proposals and to limit those proposals solicited by the department to those in accordance with the Sensible Transportation Policy Act.”

Davis is the sponsor of L.R. 373, An Act to Prohibit the Delegation of Eminent Domain Power to Private Entities. The proposal prevents eminent domain from being used by a private entity for transportation projects, or on behalf of a private entity in certain public-private partnerships.

The need for state legislation has been demonstrated by the efforts of communities to protect themselves from the proposed East-West Corridor. Eight towns – Abbot, Charleston, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Garland, Monson, Parkman and Sangerville – have passed a local regulation, be it a moratorium, referendum, local self-governance or land-use ordinance.

In addition, local people of all political persuasions have formed organizations in opposition to the proposed corridor. One such group, started by grandmothers from Charleston – Grandmothers Against the East-West Corridor – gets together every fourth Friday to lead a silent vigil in front of the Pittsfield headquarters of Cianbro Corp., which proposed the private highway. All this is an example of how many people feel threatened and left vulnerable by existing state laws.

Over the past three years, Stop the East-West Corridor has focused on developing resources, advocating for transparency and supporting decentralized local resistance to the proposed East-West Corridor.

We are all Maine residents working together to help support people with a variety of concerns who are still unable to find answers to their questions from private or public officials.

It is time to ensure that we don’t have any more unfounded proposals that waste taxpayers’ time, money and resources the way the East-West Corridor is doing. The bills introduced by Sen. Davis and Rep. Chapman go a long way to address this problem and deserve the support of all the people of Maine.

Cianbro has been mostly quiet about its progress. However, Cianbro President Andi Vigue voiced continued support for and commitment to the corridor in a WABI-TV 5 news broadcast on June 16, 2014, and in May 2014, Maine Magazine published a feature piece with a photo of Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue in Wesley, where the corridor would “cross Route 9.” Like an inexplicable dark cloud on the horizon that never goes away, the corridor proposal lingers.

That the East-West Corridor is not in the public’s best interest was well documented in the state’s 1999 east-west highway feasibility studies. These studies explored the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of a new public toll highway from Calais to Coburn Gore, along with several other options.

In the end, the state concluded that the new-build option would create the most environmental impact, would not significantly increase manufacturing, would not stop people from moving away and was likely to create a negative bypass effect on rural downtowns, especially in Washington County, which is primarily served by east-west roads.

The price tag for construction at that time was $1.2 billion, although the total costs – incorporating all the negative factors, not just money – were estimated at $439,239 in 2015 and $229,691 in 2030 per job created.

Therefore, the state concluded that the costs outweighed the benefits; in other words, that a new public toll highway would have an overall negative economic impact. Instead, the state decided to improve Routes 9 and 2, a plan that the Maine Department of Transportation is still pursuing.

Why then are we still having to mobilize against this ill-conceived proposal for the East-West Corridor? It is time for reasonable state laws that prioritize the public interest in planning state transportation infrastructure.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Buchanan of Belgrade is statewide coordinator of Stop the East-West Corridor. For more information about the group, visit: www.stopthecorridor.org.

New bills to preserve State control over transportation development, and eminent domain

Op-Ed by Chris Buchanan | March 25, 2015

The proposed East-West Transportation, Communications, and Utilities Corridor has raised important public policy questions regarding the state’s transportation policy. Two bills have been introduced by our Maine legislators to ensure the proper role for the state in transportation planning, maintenance, and development, without increasing regulations or stymying infrastructure that is desired by local people. The bills would create an equal playing field for all significant transportation proposals that may utilize the Public-Private-Partnership law.

LD506, An Act to Improve Public-Private Transportation Partnerships, introduced by Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville) and cosponsored by Senator Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis), will be heard by the Transportation Committee on Thursday, March 26. The bill’s summary states:“This bill changes the law governing public-private partnerships to develop transportation facilities by removing the Department of Transportation’s authority to receive unsolicited proposals and to limit those proposals solicited by the department to those in accordance with the Sensible Transportation Policy Act.”

LR 373, An Act to Prohibit the Delegation of Eminent Domain Power to Private Entities sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis prevents eminent domain from being used by a private entity for transportation projects, or in certain Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) on behalf of a private entity.

The need for state legislation has been clearly demonstrated by the actions taken by local communities to enact local laws designed to protect their community from the proposed East-West Corridor when adequate state policy has been lacking. Eight communities have passed a local ordinance, be it a moratorium, referendum, local-self governance, or land use ordinance. These communities so far include: Abbot, Charleston, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Garland, Monson, Parkman, and Sangerville.

In addition, local people of all political persuasions have formed groups in opposition to the proposed Corridor. One such group started by Grandmothers from Charleston, “Grandmothers against the East-West Corridor,” get together every fourth Friday to lead a silent vigil in front of Cianbro’s Pittsfield headquarters. All this is telling how many people feel threatened and left vulnerable by Maine’s existing state laws.

Over the past three years, Stop the East-West Corridor has focused on developing resources, advocating for transparency, and supporting decentralized local resistance to the proposed East-West Corridor. We are all Maine residents working together to help support people with a variety of concerns, who are still unable to find answers to their questions from private or public officials. We appreciate that our state legislators are sponsoring these bills in response.

It is time for the state to ensure that we don’t have any more unfounded proposals which waste taxpayers time, money, and resources the way the East-West Corridor is. The bills introduced by Senator Davis and Representative Chapman go a long way to address this problem and deserve the support of all the people of Maine.

Although Cianbro has been mostly quiet about its progress, Cianbro President and COO Andi Vigue voiced continued support and commitment to the Corridor in a WABI-TV 5 news broadcast on June 16, 2014, and Maine Magazine published a feature piece in the May 2014 issue with a photo of Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue in Wesley where the Corridor would “cross Route 9”. Like an inexplicable dark cloud on the horizon that never goes away, the Corridor proposal lingers.

The fact that the East-West Corridor is not in the public’s best interest was well documented by the state in its 1999 Feasibility Studies of an East-West Highway. These studies explored environmental impacts and socio economic impacts of a new-build public toll highway from Calais to Coburn Gore, along with several other options. In the end, the state concluded that the new build option would create the most environmental impact, would not significantly increase manufacturing, would not stop out-migration of population, and was likely to create a negative bypass effect on rural downtowns, especially in Washington County that is primarily served by East-West roads.

The pricetag for construction at that time was $1.2 billion, although the total costs, incorporating all these factors and not just money, were estimated at $439,239 in 2015 and $229,691 in 2030 per job created. Therefore, the state concluded that the costs outweighed the benefits. In other words, there was an overall negative economic impact of that new build public toll highway. Instead, the state decided to improve Routes 9 and 2, a plan that the MDOT is still pursuing.

Why then are we still having to mobilize against this ill-conceived proposal for the East-West Corridor? It is time for reasonable state laws that prioritize the public interest in planning state transportation infrastructure.

Chris Buchanan is the Statewide Coordinator of STEWC and Maine Coordinator of Defending Water for Life, and lives in Belgrade. More info at www.stopthecorridor.org

Dead or dormant? Proponents, opponents weigh in on status of east-west highway proposal

BDN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ERIC ZELZ
Posted Dec. 30, 2014, at 5:37 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 30, 2014, at 5:53 a.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — The proposal to build a $2.1 billion, privately funded east-west highway connecting two Canadian provinces through Maine is not dead, just on the back burner, a spokesman for the plan’s main proponent said Monday.

“We have sort of lowered the temperature on that project a little bit for a whole bunch of reasons,” said Darryl Brown, program manager for the east-west highway project at Cianbro Corp. “We still are very passionate about the fact that this corridor is much needed and certainly would provide a transportation alternative to the west and upper midwest, particularly in this time of global economy.”

“But in terms of actively pursuing some of the things that need to happen, we have not been as engaged as of late as we were a year ago,” Brown added. “There are other projects that Cianbro is involved in that take precedence.”

Company workers are still “spending some time on this determining where the best routing possibilities would lie,” he said. That’s about the extent of their efforts, he said.

Proponents and opponents agreed that the project is at least dormant.

“I would say it is in the slow lane, maybe the breakdown lane, certainly not the fast lane,” said Jym St. Pierre, Maine director of Restore: The North Woods, an environmental group that opposes the plan.

“I think it is on life support,” said former state Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, who supports the idea. “I am beginning to wonder if it will ever be built because the people who are for it are not as enthused as the people against it. The people who are against it are just worked right up. It is a political hot button.”

Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said that as far as state officials are concerned, the highway plan “is on the same shelf it was on when it was shelved the last time,” in May 2013.

That’s when the Legislature’s Transportation Committee voted unanimously to repeal a $300,000 Maine DOT feasibility study of the highway in response to intense opposition, effectively killing any momentum the project might have developed. The “investor-grade” study would determine for investors whether the highway would be worth the expense, and give state officials a basis for future east-west highway planning, Thomas said.

The idea had been kicking around Maine for decades when Cianbro president Peter Vigue began promoting his company’s take on it in 2007. He said the 220-mile private highway would bisect Maine from Calais to Coburn Gore, connecting Canada’s Maritime Provinces with Quebec.

Messages left for Vigue seeking comment for this story were not returned. He has previously said that the highway would help Maine take advantage of its location by improving connectivity of eastern Canada and the interior United States with Atlantic trade routes to Europe and Asia, while drawing millions of dollars in investment and creating thousands of jobs.

It would be, he said, a particular boost for rural Maine communities devastated by the loss of traditional manufacturing and resource-based jobs.

But details about the highway, including its exact route, have been scarce, and environmental groups, small-business owners and residents of communities that could be affected by the project have opposed the plan through several legislative measures. One environmentalist claimed that it would cross or be in the viewshed of more than five dozen significant conservation and recreation areas.

Nine municipalities have passed ordinances or regulations opposing or requiring their approval of the highway. They are Abbott, Charleston, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Garland, Monson, Parkman, Sangerville and Wellington, said Chris Buchanan, statewide coordinator of Stop The East-West Corridor. The towns, in general, fear losing the land needed to build the highway and the effects on their businesses and property values if it is constructed.

The opposition to it was among the things that made the study proposal easy for legislators to reject. Legislators assumed the public end of the public-private partnership would involve the state sinking tens to hundreds of millions of dollars into the highway, an unpalatable notion, said state Sen. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland, former chairman of the Transportation Committee, the body that would take up a revised or resubmitted bill.

“Personally, I don’t think that it would [be taken up again]. There was a lot of discussion about it and the general consensus of it was that Route 2 basically is an east-west highway for the state,” Mazurek said. “The perception was that a few people would benefit from it but not most others in the state.”

The highway’s proponents appear to be keeping the issue under the radar, if they are dealing with it at all. Gov. Paul LePage, who conditionally supports the project, hasn’t made any public statements about it recently. His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, did not return a recent email message. A spokeswoman for Eastern Maine Development Corp., another project proponent, declined to comment on it.

David Cole, a transportation consultant and former Maine Department of Transportation commissioner, said he is unaware of any promotion of the proposal occurring recently, while Sidney Mitchell, secretary to the Friends of the Piscataquis Valley group that opposes the project, said that group members hope to work with legislators this spring to disassemble parts of the laws that allow public-private partnerships.

Cole, who was DOT commissioner when Vigue began promoting the idea in 2007, supports improving northern Maine’s infrastructure, but said he thinks the state has a bigger opportunity to improve its east-to-west transportation infrastructure in the near future with its port-to-rail connections.

“Any proposal for a major east-west highway would require strong public support and need to make sense economically,” Cole said. “The economics have to be there before people are going to support any proposal. They have to know that the traffic is there, and to my knowledge, that hasn’t happened yet. That’s not saying whether an east-west highway is good or bad.”

Cole made a point that the state’s three gubernatorial candidates offered when the plan was discussed prior to the November election — that too little was known about the plan to determine whether it should be endorsed.

“I think at this point there are still a lot of unknowns about how a highway would work. Those questions would have to be answered and again, that’s something that needs a lot of public support,” Cole added.

Buchanan said she wished the idea would disappear.

“It seems unfair that people are living in limbo with no way to end what most people are perceiving as a threat,” she said. “That is the most important message I can say.”

Thomas, Cole and St. Pierre said they don’t see the project going away. They assume that Vigue and other proponents continue to work on it privately. The study bill could be revived publicly, Talbot said, by legislative action or upon LePage’s request.

“If doing an east-west highway were easy,” Cole said wryly, “it would have been done 50 years ago, right?”

BDN writers Alex Barber, Robert Long, and Mario Moretto contributed to this report.