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.

LePage action abrupt, hurtful to tribes

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The governor’s recission of the 2011 executive order that had put the state and Maine’s tribes on equal footing is disturbing.

INDIAN ISLAND — I am a Native person. I was born into the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and take an affirmed pride in my culture and my people.

I have lived in Maine for 29 years and eternally love this state. Until recently, I hadn’t shared many people’s outrage at Gov. LePage and the way he has taken to running it.

I have time and again defended the governor to people who have spoken out against him in my presence, even though I consider myself to be a very liberal-minded person after living in the Portland area for several years.

I defended him because he had done several things to help better the relations between the tribes and the state, including issuing the August 2011 executive order that states “the unique relationship between the State of Maine and the individual Tribes is a relationship between equals.”

The governor’s actions these past few days seem abrupt, like those of an angry child so quick to take away something that was given. The reasoning appears to be because he can’t handle that our nations are trying to push for conditions to be met, and our voices to be heard.

This rescission of the 2011 executive order comes at a very critical time. Maine tribes have just met with the Skowhegan school board to try to convince the people of the town to change the mascot of Skowhegan Area High School. And there’s also the ongoing fight with the Washington National Football League team.

I am proud to be who I am, but alone, without my tribe, I feel vulnerable. I grew up on the Penobscot reservation and was afraid to leave it because of the way I thought I would be treated. Off the reservation from a very young age, I have experienced a considerable amount of racism directed toward myself and my people. Luckily I am light-skinned and am able to assimilate very easily into white society.

I shouldn’t have to. As I travel, if I go to an area where there are no tribes and where people haven’t met a Native person before, if they find out that I am, almost instantly the first question they ask is “How much are you?” This may be because of my lighter skin tone, but I know many darker Natives who have received the same question.

The question isn’t “What tribe are you from?” Instead, they want to know my percentage of Native American blood. I have lived in several states, and as I travel throughout the U.S., this seems to be one of the universal reactions toward me when others realize my race.

At this point, I become a novelty for them. I am suddenly being asked questions I don’t want to answer, things that a normal person would never ask a person of color. But the sad truth is that we are not considered people.

If I travel to a place nearer to reservations I am even more reluctant to be found out, because in most cases there is a hostility toward Native people. In these areas we aren’t a novelty; we are a problem, something to be dealt with – “some thing,” not someone.

In these cases we are not people, we are a nuisance. Like with the Washington football team and many other mascots where Natives are depicted, we lose our humanity. I am so very tired of not feeling like a person, feeling like I am apart from everyone else in this nation.

Native people are uniquely treated, because for most people we either only exist in poorly informed textbooks, or as a small group that needs to be handled. It seems as though there aren’t enough of us to make an impact and have our voices heard.

In a time when people are shouting that black lives matter, we are still shoved aside and told to shut up and deal with things like the rescission of the governor’s order. When will we matter? When will we be considered someone and not some thing?

What the state of Maine needs is to avoid severing this relationship that we have finally been able build. It has taken hundreds of years to be able for us to finally be treated as we should be and only three to be taken away. I don’t think that I can express enough how hurt I feel about this entire situation.


Carter E. Cates of Indian Island is a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation.

LePage, utilities commissioner conflict over PUC recusal standards

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 | By Naomi Schalit ©Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

A conflict over ethics between Gov. Paul LePage and a member of the state’s Public Utilities Commission has been settled in the short term, but threatens to produce more controversy over the long term.

The conflict was resolved when Gov. Lepage recently appointed former Superior Court Judge John Atwood to substitute for commission member David Littell on a high-profile case from which Littell recused himself because of a conflict of interest. That was a reversal of LePage’s earlier position, in which he refused to appoint a substitute for Littell, saying he didn’t believe Littell’s reason for recusing himself was legitimate.

The three members of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decide how much Mainers pay for water, telephone, electricity and natural gas service.

But LePage also said if Littell is going to recuse himself on this case, the governor has a list of eight other cases he thinks Littell should remove himself from because of similar conflicts of interest, including a prominent case mounted by citizens opposed to the use of so-called “Smart Meters” at their homes.

“The public deserves to have commissioners that do not selectively avoid cases,” wrote LePage in a letter to Littell that was accompanied by the list of cases.

In response, Littell accused LePage of improperly interfering with the PUC, an independent government agency, and “attempting to direct or influence whether a Commissioner … sits on a particular case.”

If the governor wanted to continue the discussion about his participation in cases, Littell wrote, he should raise the issue through proper Commission channels.

“I do not intend to continue this correspondence,” wrote Littell, “and suggest your office follow the legal requirements for participating in Commission cases and communicating with Commissioners on cases in front of us.”

No bias allowed

A variety of laws and rules govern the behavior of PUC commissioners. The rules are meant to prevent situations in which a commissioner appears to, or actually does, favor a former employee, family member, friend or business associate during proceedings.

The state’s Administrative Procedure Act requires that “Hearings shall be conducted in an impartial manner.” The state’s conflict-of-interest laws state that, “Every executive employee shall endeavor to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest by disclosure or by abstention.” If a commissioner is an attorney, state Bar rules regarding conflicts apply, and the ethics code of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners also apply to all commissioners.

The argument between LePage and Littell began on May 5, when Littell recused himself from a case involving the multinational Nestle Waters corporation, saying his past association with Pierce Atwood, a prominent law firm involved in the case, created the appearance of a conflict of interest. Littell was formerly a partner at the law firm, which represents Nestle and the Fryeburg Water Co., and he worked there on legal matters for Poland Spring before the brand was acquired by Nestle.

Nestle and Fryeburg Water Co. want commission approval of a 25-year contract allowing Fryeburg to sell water to Nestle. The proposal is opposed by some residents and national water-rights advocates, who say the price Nestle will pay for the water is too low and that the deal could put Nestle’s claim on Fryeburg water ahead of residents’ right to it.

Littell was the third commissioner to remove himself from the case because of conflicts related to ties to a company or law firm. His recusal came seven months after he initially said he did not need to recuse himself, and he said his change of heart came after his potential conflict of interest was featured in news stories in the Portland Press Herald about the conflicts faced by PUC commissioners in the case.

After the first two commissioners, Mark Vannoy and Thomas Welch, recused themselves because they had each previously worked for Nestle Waters, the commission was left without a quorum of two to decide the case, and PUC consideration of the deal couldn’t go forward.

That led lawmakers to join with LePage in passing legislation this past spring that allows the governor to appoint retired judges as substitute commissioners. LePage then used his new power under the legislation and appointed retired Maine Supreme Judicial Court judge Paul Rudman to sit as an alternate commissioner with Littell on the case.

But then, when Littell recused himself, LePage responded that an appearance of a conflict wasn’t enough to disqualify Littell from participating in the case.

“By applying the standard you outlined in your memo, as Commissioner you would be unable to participate in cases ranging from telecommunications to wind development,” wrote LePage in a May 13 letter to Littell.

LePage said that he wouldn’t appoint another judge to replace Littell.

LePage’s rejection of Littell’s recusal rationale has prolonged a discussion among lawmakers and agency personnel of state policy regarding conflicts of interest at the Public Utilities Commission.

That discussion was prompted by public concerns about conflicts of interest in the Nestle case, which led, in part, to a study by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. That study, released in October 2013, concluded that the “PUC should take additional steps to minimize risk of actual or perceived bias in its regulatory activities.”

LePage began his part of the discussion by threatening not to appoint a substitute commissioner and then, once he withdrew that threat, by challenging the appropriateness of Littell participating in similar cases to the Nestle-Fryeburg one.

Littell’s response was to tell the governor, “The decision to recuse myself … is my responsibility, and I continue to believe I am making an appropriate and correct decision.”

And Littell threw down his own challenge to LePage: If the governor wants Littell to recuse himself from additional cases because of conflicts between his past association with Pierce Atwood and present cases represented by the law firm, why is he not “asking the same” of the other two commissioners at the agency. PUC Chairman Welch, for example, was an attorney at Pierce Atwood before he joined the commission.

But in between the volley of letters between the two, others have weighed in, suggesting that clarification of recusal standards may be in order.

On July 8, Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn and Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, wrote to LePage, saying that “we are committed to work to make changes, if necessary, to further refine the legislation” that gave the governor the power to appoint replacement commissioners in the event of a recusal.

LePage agrees that something should be done, and in his letter appointing Atwood to replace Littell, told the PUC that, “I will be submitting legislation in the next session that ensures that this does not occur again and recusal standards are consistently applied.”

And despite his boss’s confrontational approach, LePage’s top energy staffer, Patrick Woodcock, took a more conciliatory tack.

“I think the governor was concerned that perhaps a new standard was being used to explain this specific recusal and there are a lot of controversial cases before the PUC, lots of cases involving the former law firm that the commissioner worked at,” said Woodcock. “I think everybody, all of us, should work to create a consistent and clear and understandable recusal standard.”

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Augusta. Email: Web: