DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Only a few empty seats remained in a packed Foxcroft Academy gymnasium as Cianbro Chairman and CEO Peter Vigue answered written questions about the proposed east-west highway from a sometimes hostile crowd on Thursday evening.
Vigue quickly pointed to the economic benefits of the highway for a region that is struggling.
“I remember what Brownville and Milo were like. Today, it’s a skeleton of the past. It doesn’t need to be that way,” said Vigue.
Vigue talked to the crowd while presenting slides to illustrate points. Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, also helped answer questions.
Vigue became visibly upset when some members of the audience repeatedly interrupted him while he was answering questions about the potential that the project would require use of eminent domain to take land, which he said would not happen.
“I asked you to do one simple thing, point out one time that I have misrepresented the communities in which I worked in,” said Vigue. “Tell me that we abused the people, the community or the surrounding land owners. And that is not the case. When I tell you we’re not using eminent domain, we’re not.”
Vigue said the highway is needed and expressed his opinion of the value Eastport could have as a shipping hub in the transportation of goods across the highway to their eventual Midwest destinations.
“I don’t need to tell you how desperate the people in Washington County are [for jobs],” said Vigue.
He provided a slightly clearer picture of where he envisions the proposed highway would be. The 220-mile toll highway would start in Calais and end in Coburn Gore. He said again that the highway would not go through any communities and it would travel south of Dover-Foxcroft and north of Dexter.
Six exits are planned at interchanges in Calais, Interstate 95, Routes 15, 23, 201 and 16/27. Two other exits in Washington County also are possible, he said.
When asked how the highway would create jobs, Vigue pointed to how I-95 has helped create jobs in nearby cities and towns.
“It speaks for itself. If we do nothing, what will we look like and where will that take us?” Vigue said, stating that Piscataquis County has a 9.9 percent unemployment rate.
One person in the audience pointed to Howland, which is intersected by I-95, as also having a high unemployment rate.
Vigue did not give an answer, which led several people in the audience to shout, “Answer the question.”
Questions were raised about reinvesting in the railroad infrastructure, which already runs east to west, instead of building a new highway.
“If the rails are the way to go, then why have they not done significant investments?” asked Vigue, saying that shipping by rail was not feasible for small businesses.
Vigue said twice that he believes property values next to the highway would not go down but may actually increase.
One question focused on the possibility of a referendum being placed on the ballot regarding the project.
“I don’t think it needs a referendum,” said Vigue.
A protest was staged across the street from the school before the meeting with several people voicing their concerns while others held up signs opposing the highway.