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.

HELP KILL THE EWC! Action needed now on our bill.

Help protect Maine people and the environment from unnecessary new transportation infrastructure

(like the East-West Corridor)

 

Call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to vote, “ought to pass” on LD 1168 today!

 

Click here for a CONTACT LIST for all Senators and Representatives: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WBJaw1Hvmr0n0DSVVS_CBXA1ug1_lLw0-L26MbrPVdE/pubhtml?usp=gmail

 

Please take notice: LD 1168 has changed from a focus on eminent domain to a focus on improving the P3 law. There are several reasons for this. Primarily, we want to achieve some protection THIS SESSION. Please contact us to discuss.

 

New Talking Points for LD 1168

 

LD 1168 as amended makes some significant improvements to the public-private partnership law for transportation projects (P3) to improve protection of the public interest.  This amended bill was a joint effort between Stop the East-West Corridor, the Department of Transportation, and Sen. Paul Davis.

 

LD 1168 clarifies that P3s must be in accordance with the Sensible Transportation Policy Act (section 73).  The P3 should comply with the STPA because it is the guiding statute dictating appropriate transportation development in Maine, with guidelines for protecting the public interest in significant transportation development. That means more safeguards for water resources, farmland, wildlife, natural resources, rural character, tourism, state and municipal resources, and taxpayer money from unnecessary transportation infrastructure like the East-West Corridor.

 

LD 1168 calls for an annual reporting requirement, which enables some public participation and accountability to lawmakers on authorized P3 projects.  Right now, P3 projects only require legislative authorization at a draft stage, and then never need to be seen again.  Since P3 projects may use up to 50% taxpayer money and other state resources, ongoing legislative and public oversight is critical.

 

LD 1168 clarifies that the department may not confer eminent domain power to a private entity.  According to the Chief Deputy Attorney General, Linda Pistner, this potential abuse of eminent domain power is currently unclear in Maine State law, so we are fixing that.

 

 

To view Maine’s existing P3 law, visit: http://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/23/title23sec4251.html

 

To view Maine’s Sensible Transportation Policy Act (section 73), visit:

http://legislature.maine.gov/legis/statutes/23/title23sec73.html

 

To view an amended version of LD 1168, see the attachment.

 

Click here for a CONTACT LIST for all Senators and Representatives: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WBJaw1Hvmr0n0DSVVS_CBXA1ug1_lLw0-L26MbrPVdE/pubhtml?usp=gmail

 

Thank you for your concern and your support!

 

 

Questions? Contact:

 

Chris Buchanan                                                             Jane Crosen

Statewide Coordinator, STEWC                                 Eastern Outreach, STEWC

Maine Coordinator, Defending Water for Life         jcrosenmaps(at)gmail(dot)com

chris(at)defendingwater(dot)net                                           (207) 326-4850

(207) 495-3648

 

 

For more information about Stop the East-West Corridor and the East-West Corridor proposal in general, please visit: www.stopthecorridor.org

LIKE us on Facebook: Stop the East-West Corridor

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.