CAMDEN, Maine — A plan intended to give residents of midcoast towns along Route 1 and Route 90 some control of the highway projects undertaken there has received a national award from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Representatives of the Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan and the Maine Department of Transportation on Wednesday were awarded the 2010 National Award for Smart Growth in the rural category from the EPA, the first time the award has been granted to a Maine project. Winners in other categories this year came from Balti-more; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco and New York City.
“We were humbled by being amongst the winners from such big cities,” Don White of Camden, volunteer chairman of the Gateway 1 Implementation Steering Committee, said Thursday. “The program’s whole goal is to make Route 1 safer, and there are a lot of different pieces that go in the puzzle.”
But not everyone agrees with the EPA’s assessment. A vocal minority of small-government proponents have stepped forward to register their displeasure with the planning effort, saying at a steering committee meeting last month that Gateway 1 is part of a global conspiracy.
The Gateway 1 Plan began in 2004, shortly after two high-profile protests that occurred when residents objected to the Maine DOT’s plans to widen Route 1. In 2002, 12 people were arrested in Warren after chaining themselves to trees to prevent their removal. Two years later, 200 people protested the cutting of more than 150 trees in Camden for another widening project.
Now, 16 communities from Stockton Springs to Brunswick are involved in the effort to collaborate with the Maine DOT, the Maine State Planning Office and the Federal Highway Administration on road projects.
Although it is still in a planning stage, the primary goal is to give the communities a vote on what projects will be done and with what priority — and, it is hoped, to avoid any future disruptive protests. Other goals are to allow the midcoast region to develop in such a way that reduces congestion and stress on the transportation system and increases job and population growth.
“This power-sharing authority is unprecedented,” White said. “It’s working very nicely.”
However, at Gateway 1’s last steering committee meeting, held on Nov. 10 at Rockland City Hall, several people came forward to challenge the committee members about the project. They suggested that the effort is part of a global conspiracy and would weaken private property rights.
More specifically, those concerned about Gateway 1 said it seems to be in line with the goals of the United Nation’s Agenda 21 plan, which describes itself as a blueprint for sustainable development.
According to the U.N.’s website, that is a “comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally” by governments, U.N. organizations and other major groups in every area where humans affect the environment. It was adopted by more than 178 governments at a U.N. conference on the environment and devel-opment held in Brazil in 1992.
“I think it is definitely linked with the U.N. agenda,” Wayne Leach of Warren, who spoke against Gateway 1 in November, said Thursday. “I believe it’s to control private property, to dictate what people can do. We should be able to do what we want on our property — without government interference and control.”
Gateway 1’s Corridor Action Plan asks participating corridor communities to create a core growth area and also maintain the rural character of less-developed areas. Some ideas are to develop pedestrian and bicycle paths, expand public water and sewer services in core commercial and residential areas and limit the number of driveways and curb cuts off Routes 1 and 90, among other points.
“This program is voluntary,” White said. “Communities that are in it now can get out anytime they want to.”
Those involved with Gateway 1 planning must decide by June 30, 2011, whether the program is for them, he said.
White also said that he is unfamiliar with Agenda 21.
But Leach said that even if White and other steering committee members had not heard of the plan — none admitted to having done so when asked point-blank during the meeting, he said — he hopes they will take the opportunity to learn more about it.
“It’s supposedly to have sustainable development,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the government’s business. If I want to cut a tree on my property, I should be able to do it.”
Leach said that he is part of the Constitutionalists of Maine, a nonpartisan political discussion group that promotes freedom and small government. He said they have been looking into the U.N.’s goals for some time.
“It’s a dangerous thing. I’m sure they’re connected,” he said of Agenda 21 and Gateway 1. “I really am.”
Information about Gateway 1 may be found at www.gateway1.org.