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

Take Action on LD 506! Hearing this Thursday, March 26th at 1pm

How to Take Action on LD 506
An Act to Improve Public Private Partnerships
sponsored by Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville)
cosponsored by Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis)

Educate yourself. By reading LD 506, by clicking HERE, by contacting us*, or by typing this web address into your browser: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getPDF.asp?paper=HP0345&item=1&snum=127

Review our Talking Point Suggestions for LD 506. These are intended to help you develop testimony that resonates with you and with lawmakers. You can find them attached to this message, online at www.stopthecorridor.org, or contact us and we will forward them*.

Contact Transportation Committee Members and ask them to support LD 506.

Best formula: Contact members + Submit Testimony + Attend Public Hearing

Please know that any part you do will be helpful! Here are all the bases:

1) Contact committee members individually and ask them to support LD 506. In person or by phone is best, but email is good too. Committee contact information is attached, and at www.stopthecorridor.org.

2) Submit official written testimony in one or more of the following ways:
A. At the Public Hearing, please bring at least 20 copies of your testimony and give them to the committee clerk.
B. Submit written testimony to the Transportation Committee by email: darlene.simoneau@legislature.maine.gov.
C. Submit written testimony to the Transportation Committee by post:
Darlene Simoneau, Transportation Committee Clerk, 100 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04333.
D. Note, officially submitting written testimony is the only way that your input goes on the public record. The deadline for submissions will be the Work Session on LD 506, which is not yet scheduled. However, we recommend that testimony be submitted before the Public Hearing on March 26th. Your testimony will have the most impact if hard copies are received by the clerk in time to insert in committee file folders before the hearing.

3) Testify before the Transportation Committee at the Public Hearing on Thursday, March 26th at 1pm in the State House, Room 126 in three minutes or less. You may summarize your written testimony, or speak from your heart. The committee will not answer questions. The more support at the public hearing, the better, whether you decide to orally testify or not.

Join our Press Conference. Tentatively planned before the Public Hearing…stay tuned!

*Contact us:
Chris Buchanan Jane Crosen
Statewide Coordinator, STEWC Eastern Outreach, STEWC
Maine Coordinator, Defending Water for Life jcrosenmaps@gmail.com
chris@defendingwater.net (207) 326-4850
(207) 495-3648

LD 506, An Act to Improve Public-Private Transportation Partnerships,
sponsored by Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville),
cosponsored by Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis)

Concept:
LD 506 completely eliminates unsolicited proposals from the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) Law and explicitly states that the Public-Private-Partnership Law for Transportation Projects must be consistent with the Maine Sensible Transportation Policy Act .

Talking points:
• This bill does not change, limit, or restrict the Maine Department of Transportation’s ability to develop a PPP for transportation infrastructure.

• This bill closes a loophole in the existing law by ensuring that all proposals to develop a PPP for transportation infrastructure would be initiated by the MDOT, and therefore would be consistent with public need, state planning, and existing laws.

• This bill preserves State control, oversight, and accountability for transportation planning and infrastructure development.

• This bill clarifies and preserves MDOT authority to represent the interests of the people of Maine.

• A private entity should not have the power to initiate proposals for new transportation infrastructure that is estimated to exceed $25,000,000 in initial capital cost, or that places tolls on new transportation facilities or on existing ones that were not previously subject to tolls.

• This bill prevents waste of taxpayer money. Taxpayers should not be funding the time and resources of MDOT staff who must interface with the public, and possibly the developer, about unsolicited proposals that aren’t grounded in State planning.

• The legislature must act to pass LD 506 and related legislation, LR 373, before there is any foreign investment in a public-private-partnership or private proposal to build a transportation corridor in order to avoid triggering the “investor-to-state” provision of trade agreements which gives foreign investors the right to sue the state in order to protect their “right” to future profits.
o Cianbro officials have stated that the Corridor would be owned and operated by at least one of twenty-two international investment firms.

• The need for this bill became apparent when the EWC proposal came to the table.

• The bill explicitly states that the PPP follows the Sensible Transportation Policy Act, protecting the public interest by ensuring transparency, public oversight, and other safeguards currently missing from the PPP.