East-west highway a raw deal for Mainers, gold mine for investors

By Chris Buchanan, Special to the BDN
Posted March 18, 2012, at 3:24 p.m.

Maine legislators are considering a bill to spend $300,000 of our tax dollars to fund a financial feasibility study for a private toll road across Maine which would have major consequences for Mainers. On March 12, the Senate passed LD 1671 by a narrow vote of 19 to 15. The House vote could come very soon followed by a second Senate vote.

Our tax dollars should not be used to fund a financial feasibility study for a private toll road. While investors would profit from building the toll road, it would be a raw deal for the people of Maine. Rather than creating economic stability for Mainers, as proponents of the toll road argue, it will harm local economic development in Maine. Here’s why.

It will become a northeast gateway for Canada, not Maine communities, tourists or local businesses.

Canadian businesses and truckers will benefit from a short route across Maine and be willing and able to pay the high tolls, not Mainers or tourists. In a recent MPBN broadcast, Peter Mills from the Maine Turnpike Authority said the toll may cost $100-$200. Second, according to Cianbro President Peter Vigue, the project will only have two interchanges, one north of Dover-Foxcroft to allow containers to be exchanged and one at Route 201.

There will be diminished local economic opportunity and community vibrancy.

A financial feasibility study ignores potential environmental impacts, particularly impacts to Maine’s water and forests if the highway encourages the export of water and wood chips by transnational corporations. This kind globalization leaves communities in poverty because they no longer have value in their land to sustain themselves. Instead, the Legislature should support local economic initiatives, small business and community vitality.

A short-lived increase in jobs isn’t worth a long depression.

The road will depress local land values, decrease tourist appeal, increase pollution that makes the land less viable for farming and other local land use.

Public money will be used for private profit.

Our tax dollars should not be used to fund a financial feasibility study for a private toll road that will benefit investors and Canadian energy and trucking companies, but not the people of Maine.

Taxpayers will be signing a blank check.

If the study requires more than the $300,000 in the bill, the amount can be increased without any further vote. That is not all. The state of Maine would have to rebuild the border crossing station at Coburn Gore to meet Department of Homeland Security requirements. And who will pay the expense to patrol the highway?

Eminent domain will hold sway. With the precedence of legislative support and under the auspices of a “public-private partnership,” private investors may collude with the state to acquire land along the route through eminent domain by arguing it’s for the public good.

No public voice portends an environmental and community disaster. The financial feasibility study opens the door to one of the most significant landscape and cultural transformations Maine has ever seen, yet there is no provision for public input from Mainers. This is a huge infringement on individual rights and local control.

Even more fossil fuel will burned. Climate change is upon us. Building a major highway primarily to truck Canadian goods across Maine for export is going in the wrong direction.

The highway would be a supercorridor for natural gas, and what else? New information that the highway might create a corridor for a natural gas pipeline from Canada’s gas fracking fields in Quebec and New Brunswick to ports in its maritime provinces and for liquid petroleum gas to be trucked to the fields to use for a new gas fracking technology, adds to the urgency to stop this bill and to conduct a thorough study of what this highway might really entail. In fact, Peter Vigue has stated that his goals for the highway include a corridor for utilities and communications.

The east-west highway has taken multiple forms over the past couple decades. Now it is before us in the most dangerous way ever: as a private project. The concept of using public money to fund a study for private investors is unethical. The threat to local control is unprecedented. The toll road will only increase economic inequality in Maine as it benefits private investors and Canadian corporations. We need our legislators to provide a long-term vision for Maine’s economy and Maine’s people, not spend our tax dollars to benefit Canadian exporters.

Chris Buchanan is a grassroots organizer with Defending Water for Life in Maine and lives Belgrade. For more information, visit www.defendingwater.net/maine/.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/18/opinion/east-west-highway-a-raw-deal-for-mainers-gold-mine-for-investors/ printed on August 31, 2014