Commission Handling Dozens of Petitions to Opt Out of Expedited Wind Development

Link to Original Article and Audio Stream

 | Maine Public Radio | FEB 22, 2016

Susan Sharon reports on wind development in Maine’s Unorganized Territory.

Townships and plantations in Maine have until June to opt out of being an “expedited permitting area” for wind development. Already there are nearly two dozen petitions that have been received by the Land Use Planning Commission.

Another 18 petitions are in circulation. But the agency is also hearing from large landowners who want to prevent the removal process from going forward without a formal review.

This is the first time since the Wind Energy Act was passed by the Maine Legislature in 2008 that residents of the Unorganized Territory can take steps to remove themselves from expedited wind permitting areas of the state. Last year lawmakers agreed to give them a six-month window to do so. The clock began ticking in January, and planning manager Samantha Horn Olsen of the Land Use Planning Commission says so far, the numbers are about what was expected.

“There are several hundred townships and plantations in the jurisdiction and so the number could be higher, however there places that are being considered for wind energy development where people are more likely to be interested and then others where that might not be so much of an issue,” she says, “and so you may not see people be interested in filing a petition.”

Getting a township or plantation removed from the expedited area does not ensure that a wind project won’t be developed, but it does mean that developers have to get zoning approval before they apply for a permit, something that is not currently required.

To qualify for removal, petitioners need to collect at least ten percent of residents’ signatures, based on the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. In some places that might only be a handful.

Chris O’Neil of the group Friends of Maine’s Mountains has been trying to get the word out that there’s a June 30 deadline for what he calls a “unique opportunity.”

“We estimate that about 70 areas should take action on this,” he says. “Looking at the spreadsheets and the maps really lets you know that almost everywhere wind development wants to go there are people who live fairly close by.”

The process also gives stakeholders, such as landowners who object to removal, the opportunity to request a formal review.

And Patrick Strauch of the Maine Forest Products Council says he’s aware of several large landowners, members of his organization, who are concerned about how a land use designation change would affect their property and its future potential uses. They are now requesting formal review.

“The landowners have looked at the petitions that have been filed and figured out where there are areas they want to contest those petitions and that’s just the path we’re following that we set up through the legislative process,” he says.

Their request for review requires the Commission to confirm the residency of the petitioners, take comments and possibly hold a public hearing. Horn Olsen says it also requires the Commission to see if the petition for removal meets two fundamental criteria.

“The first one is that the removal of the place will not have an unreasonable, adverse effect on the state’s ability to meet the state goals for wind energy development,” she says. “And the second criterion is that it’s consistent with the principal values and the goals of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.”

The Wind Energy Act was designed to cut through multiple layers of bureaucracy in a specific zone. But O’Neil says it neglected to give people who live in the area a voice. And he says it’s possible disputes over the the process for removing townships from expedited wind development will wind up in court.

Judge rules Penobscot Nation reservation does not include river’s waters

December 15, 2015 | by Kevin Miller | Portland Press Herald

Link to original article

But U.S. District Judge George Singal clarifies that Penobscot tribal members’ sustenance fishing rights extend throughout the main stem of the Penobscot River.

A federal judge has ruled that the Penobscot Nation's reservation does not extend to the waters of the Penobscot River, but the tribe's members can conduct sustenance fishing on the river's main stem. This is the East Branch.

A federal judge has ruled that the Penobscot Nation’s reservation does not extend to the waters of the Penobscot River, but the tribe’s members can conduct sustenance fishing on the river’s main stem. This is the East Branch. 2014 Press Herald File Photo/Gregory Rec

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Penobscot Nation’s reservation ends at the shoreline of tribal islands, siding with the state in a jurisdictional dispute over the waters of the Penobscot River.

But in a mixed ruling, U.S. District Court Judge George Singal reaffirmed tribal members’ sustenance fishing rights throughout the main stem of the Penobscot.

Singal rejected arguments from the Penobscot Nation and federal agencies that the tribe’s reservation boundaries extend “from bank to bank” of Maine’s second-largest river. Instead, Singal sided with Attorney General Janet Mills in ruling there was “no ambiguity” in the definition of the reservation as laid out in the landmark Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 negotiated between the state, federal government and tribes.

“The Settlement Acts clearly define the Penobscot Indian Reservation to include the delineated islands of the main stem, but do not suggest that any of the waters of the main stem fall within the Penobscot Indian Reservation,” Singal wrote. “That clear statutory language provides no opportunity to suggest that any of the waters of the main stem are also included within the boundaries of the Penobscot Indian Reservation.”

But Singal rejected the state’s interpretation on the fishing issue and, seeking to clarify what he said was ambiguous language, said the tribe has a “retained right to sustenance fish in the main stem, as it had done historically and continuously.” Under the state’s erroneous interpretation, Singal wrote, tribal members would only be allowed to fish from land.

“There is no evidence that the Maine Legislature, Congress, or the Penobscot Nation intended for the Settlement Acts to change and further restrict the already long-accepted practice of Penobscot Nation members sustenance fishing in the main stem, such that tribal members would need to have at minimum one foot on an island and could no longer sustenance fish from boats in the main stem,” Singal said.

This ruling doesn’t address a dispute over water-quality standards in the waterways that pass through tribal lands. A separate lawsuit on that issue that the state filed against the federal government is pending.

Tribal leaders were evaluating the ruling Wednesday evening and plan to “huddle up” with attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, which helped argue the tribe’s case, to discuss next steps, which could include an appeal.

Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis described the ruling as “a mixed bag.” Francis was gratified Singal upheld the tribe’s sustenance fishing rights “from bank to bank” but disappointed that the judge did not believe those waters are part of the reservation. That is concerning, Francis added, because the tribe needs to understand how to manage a resource that members depend on for sustenance.

“Obviously it’s not the greatest decision for the tribe,” Francis said. “We are trying to understand how the existing statute and the decision fit together.”

Mills said the case, which has been watched closely by American Indian organizations around the country, could have had “potentially enormous” ramifications for river users. While the tribe’s attorneys argued that the case was primarily about sustenance fishing rights, lawyers for the state said Penobscots’ interpretation of their boundaries could allow the tribe to exclude fishermen from the river, charge fees for access or even regulate industrial and municipal discharges into the Penobscot.

“The state respects that federal Judge George Singal has digested thousands of pages of filings by all the parties and intervenors,” Mills’ office said in a statement. “In this very thorough 64-page ruling the judge decided very clearly that the reservation itself does not include the main stem of the Penobscot River. The river is, as the state argued, held in trust for the benefit and use of all. The State is equally pleased that the court recognized the historical right of individual tribal members to engage in sustenance fishing along the river, a right which the state has always accorded and never denied.”

The case stems from a 2012 letter from then-Attorney General William Schneider, although the underlying tensions over tribal jurisdiction and fishing rights date back decades.

Responding to reports that tribal game wardens were stopping and summonsing non-tribal sportsmen on the river, Schneider advised the Maine Warden Service and Maine Marine Patrol that the Penobscot reservation does not include the main stem of the river.

“Like private landowners, the Penobscot Nation may also restrict access to their lands, here islands, as it sees fit,” Schneider wrote. “However, the river itself is not part of the Penobscot Nation’s Reservation, and therefore is not subject to its regulatory authority or proprietary control. The Penobscot River is held in trust by the State for all Maine citizens, and State law, including statutes and regulations governing hunting, are fully applicable there.”

The Penobscot Nation filed suit in federal court 12 days later, claiming that any attempt to enforce state law against tribal members who are sustenance fishing in the river “threatens to violate the federal law right of the Nation’s members to be free from state authority over such activity.”

The case is emblematic of the growing rift between Maine’s tribal governments and the LePage administration as well as ongoing tensions over the 35-year-old settlement agreement. In May, the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe withdrew their representatives to the Maine Legislature and accused the state of attempting to perpetuate a “guardian-to-ward relationship” with the sovereign tribal nations. Mills, meanwhile, is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over water quality standards in waters that pass through tribal areas.

Escalation in Penbscot River Battle: ACT NOW

flotilla 5-23-15Defending Water for Life in Maine and Stop the East-West Corridor are fully committed to supporting the Penobscot Nation in their fight to maintain their River.  Below is an urgent update and call to action from Penobscot historian, activist, and founder of Dawnland Environment Defense, Maria Girouard:

From: Maria Girouard <sacredhomelands(at)gmail(dot)com>

Date: Mon, Sep 7, 2015 at 8:15 AM 

Dear Friends and Allies of the Penobscot River,
Last week, Maine Governor Lepage escalated the river dispute between Penobscot Nation and state government by calling on our elected officials in Washington to “intervene” (…interfere…) in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to protect Penobscot fishing rights and ensure a clean, healthy river for all. (letter attached)
I’m sharing an essay (also attached) so you can decide whether Lepage is acting on your behalf.  For those who feel compelled to help Penobscots and the beautiful River we all love, addresses for our Washington delegates are provided below.  I encourage you all to raise your voices. They heard from Lepage, now they should hear from the People.   And if you’d like to send words of appreciation or a thank you note along to the Environmental Protection Agency for protecting the health of the Penobscot River, that address is provided below as well. 🙂   Please feel free to share this communication far and wide to help sound the alarm about the looming threat of industrialization and accompanying territorial theft at the hands of state government.  There is a quote attributed to Elie Wiesel: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  I implore you to please do something…. for the Water, for the Grandchildren.
Kci Woliwoni (“Great thanks”)
Maria
Senator Susan M. Collins
413 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Senator Angus S. King
133 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D 20510
Congressman Bruce L. Poliquin
426 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Congresswoman Rochelle M. Pingree
2162 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 201515
To send words of appreciation or a thank you note along to the Environmental Protection Agency for protecting the health of the Penobscot River:
Mr. H. Curtis Spalding
Regional Administrator
USEPA REGION 1 – New England
5 Post Office Square
Mail Code: ORA
Boston, MA 02109-3912
Email:  Spalding.curt@Epa.gov
A million thanks to you for caring!  ><)),>  ~ ~ ><)),>  ~~ ><)),>
Due to file size constraints the File Attachments mentioned are archived at:
0831 Governor Letter to Senators and Congressmen  ‘Clean Water Act’
 
Escalation of an Age-Old Conflict Update from the trenches

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.”

 

###

Flotilla on Penobscot River to Support Tribal Territory and Rights

flotilla 5-23-15

On May 23, 2015, people converged on the Penobscot River in Bangor to show their support of the Penobscot Nation’s rights over its ancestral territory- the waters of the Penobscot River.  The State of Maine issued a letter to the tribe in 2012, redefining the Penobscot’s territory to NOT include the River itself, a direct departure from historical treaties and previous interpretation of treaties and the Land Claims Settlement Act of 1980 by the State of Maine.

Around 150 people were present in boats or on shore to demonstrate their support.  Following is a video, news coverage, and photos of the event:

WABI-TV 5

BDN

3 minute video by Sass Linneken

photos by the Maine Paparazzi (including photo above)

Congress Members Support Penobscot v. Maine in Unprecedented Court Filing

Rep. Tom Cole: “Some people act as though a treaty signed a hundred or so years ago doesn’t exist – yes, it does as long as the parties are still there and there wasn’t a time limit placed on it.”
Gale Courey Toensing |5/5/15 | Indian Country Today
A group of Congress members has filed a brief in federal court backing the Penobscot Indian Nation’s lawsuit against the State of Maine over hunting and fishing rights in the Penobscot River.

It is almost certainly the first time members of Congress have entered a lawsuit in support of an Indian nation’s struggle for its sovereign rights against a state and, therefore, sets a precedent.

The amici curiae, or friends of the court, brief was filed April 29 in federal district court in Maine by five members of the Congressional Native American CaucusBetty McCollum(D-MN), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus with Tom Cole(R-OK), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation; Raúl M. Grijalva, (D-AZ), vice chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus; Ron Kind(D-WI), vice chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus; and Ben Ray Luján(D-NM), vice chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

“As members of the Caucus, amici have focused their legislative efforts on supporting the sovereign rights of, and federal obligations to, tribal nations and villages. A particular focus has been the growth of Native American communities through policies that support tribal political self-determination and economic self-sufficiency,” the group writes in its brief. “Amici therefore seek to strengthen the relationships between the United States and Indian tribes through legislation that secures the vital sovereign interests of tribal governments, including the implementation of federal statutes such as the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act(MICSA), which was enacted to protect the rights of the Penobscot Nation and its members to sustenance fishing, hunting, and trapping within its reservation without interference from the State of Maine.”

Cole said the Native American caucus tries to stay out of inter-tribal disputes between tribes. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate place for us to be, but in this case my counterpart Betty McCollum, co-chair of the Native American Caucus, and I both felt the same way – that this was just an egregious case of a state effectively abrogating parts of a treaty.”

Sometimes tribes don’t defend their rights when they should, Cole said. “We applaud the Penobscots for going to court to defend their rights. The battle they’re fighting is not just for themselves. If sovereignty is diminished anywhere it’s diminished everywhere. If any of our tribes have their treaties unilaterally altered without the permission, consent and participation it hurts every single tribe in the country. I’m glad they decided to fight it; the least we can do is express our support.”

Cole said he agreed with some tribal leaders who think the Penobscot case might turn out to be as significant for east coast tribes as the “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s led by the late Nisquallyleader Billy Frank Jr. were to the west coast tribes. At that time protesters held “fish-ins” at traditional fishing locations aimed specifically at asserting their treaty-protected fishing rights and, more broadly, their resistance to being culturally assimilated into American society.

RELATED: The Fire That Was Billy Frank Jr.; Indian Country’s Greatest Defender

“Some people act as though a treaty signed a hundred or so years ago doesn’t exist – yes, it does as long as the parties are still there and there wasn’t a time limit placed on it,” Cole said. “After all, land was given up in exchange for guarantees and those guarantees have to hold. The history of the United States in terms of holding up its side of treaties is not very commendable.”

The Penobscot case is not a partisan issue, Cole said; it’s an issue in which Congress needs to uphold its obligations and the trust responsibilities toward the tribe.

PenobscotChief Kirk Francis told ICTMN that the Nation is “extremely honored and excited that congress has weighed in on this very important case.” He said he was unaware of any other case in which members of Congress supported a tribe against a state. “I think this is truly historic and shows the level of seriousness with which they take these issues of protecting basic tribal cultural rights around attempted territorial removal and extinguishing fishing rights.”

The lawsuit – Penobscot Nation v. State of Maine, Maine Attorney General Janet Millsand two other state officials– was filed in August, 2012, in response to the state’s assertion that the Nation has jurisdiction and regulatory authority over hunting and fishing only on its reservation islands and not in the “Main Stem” of the Penobscot River. The river flows around 60 miles north of Indian Island where the Penobscot Nation’s government is located and most of its citizens live. The Nation owns numerous islands in the Main Stem as well as hundreds of thousands of acres of land elsewhere in the state as a result of the 1980 MICSA and its state companion, the 1980 Maine Implementing Act(MIA). The river is central to the Nation’s identity and culture, Francis said recently. ”This river is simply who we are. It’s the very core of our identity as a people and it’s simply the most important thing in the Penobscot Nation’s life,” he said.

Mills did not respond to a request for comment.

A year after the Nation filed the lawsuit, the federal government’s Department of Justice (DoJ) at the Nation’s request entered the case both as an intervener on the Penobscot Nation’s behalf and as a plaintiff filing a separate action against the state of Maine.

RELATED: Penobscot Nation Sues State Over Settlement-Protected Hunting and Fishing Rights

RELATED: Feds Join Penobscot Suit against State of Maine on Fishing Rights

RELATED: Ceremony – and Eagles – Mark Beginning of Veazie Dam Removal

The amici brief outlines three principles that “must” inform the interpretation of statutes regulating Indian nations: (1) that Congress reserves Indian lands to assist and protect Indians and intends that the reservation is also seen to favor and protect Indians; (2) that Congress drafts legislation against the longstanding Indian canon of construction, which requires courts to interpret ambiguities in Indian-related legislation in favor of Indians; and (3) when the U.S. acts as a trustee to settle a dispute over an Indian nation’s aboriginal property and fishing rights, it expects the court to act as a partner in fulfilling the federal government’s “solemn trust responsibilities.”

Congress plainly intended to include the Penobscot River within the Penobscot Reservation when it ratified Maine’s Act to Implement the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, and so did the State of Maine until recently, the amici wrote in their brief. “The State now contends that Congress, in drafting the Settlement Act, intended to harm the Penobscot Nation by persuading it to cede historically tribal land to the State, while preserving its sustenance fishing rights in name only by diminishing tribal land to include only the dry land of the islands in question,” the brief says. “But this interpretation cannot be squared with Congress’s intent to draft a statute that fulfills its trust responsibilities to the Penobscot Nation. Congress plainly intended to protect the Penobscot Nation’s right to fish for anadromous fish in the Penobscot River and therefore included the Main Stem of the Penobscot River, which contains the only anadromous fish available to the Tribe, within the Penobscot Reservation.”

Requests for summary judgment from the Penobscot Nation, the DoJ and the state are pending. The amici brief urges the court to grant summary judgment to the Nation.

Francis said he hopes all tribes’ nation-to-nation trust relationships with the federal government will be protected. He praised the Congressional Native American Caucus members for their activism. “They truly have proven their commitment to these issues,” Francs said. “For us this is such a scary and stressful time – having our rights and territory attacked – and this at the very least tells us in a very relevant and important way that we are not alone.”

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/05/05/congress-members-support-penobscot-v-maine-unprecedented-court-filing-160253
 
 

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