East-west highway concerns larger than eminent domain

By Herbie Clark, Special to the BDN
Posted Aug. 19, 2012, at 9:24 p.m.

Growing up in Millinocket, I was always taught that when faced with a complex problem, it makes good sense to study it thoroughly. I’ve carried that lesson with me all my life, whether it has been as a father, a soldier, a mill worker at Great Northern Paper or a state representative.

So when faced with an issue as complicated and controversial as the east-west highway, I believed taxpayers deserved thoroughness from their Legislature. That is why, when Sen. Doug Thomas asked me to support his bill for a comprehensive feasibility project for the study, I supported it because I thought he had done his homework and this was something communities throughout rural Maine were supportive of. It’s clear to me now that he didn’t and I shouldn’t have supported the measure.

I am pleased that Gov. Paul LePage has agreed to pause the study, but frankly, we should just cancel it. The people don’t want it, and based on the information I have received so far from experts and the feedback I have received from residents of the towns in question, I don’t either. It’s money that would be better spent on our schools.

As I campaign for Senate District 27, which covers many of the towns the highway would pass through, I am stopping to listen to folks’ concerns about the project; I wish more leaders would. Their concerns are valid.

For one, they are worried about the project splitting communities. I remember hearing from friends and family in Penobscot and Aroostook counties how the expansion of Interstate 95 not only split towns in half, but properties as well. It had the effect of isolating folks in a town from one another.

Imagine having to drive 20-30 miles out of the way just to get to the other end of your property, or to visit someone who used to be your neighbor. A good chunk of our local economies are dependent on sportsmen. What will happen to our snowmobile trails?

Rural isolation is a big problem up here, and a huge barrier to job growth. Do we really need to divide the state more than it already is? It’s bad enough that we’re increasingly seeing two Maines; do we really need to see two Sangervilles?

Beyond the obvious issue of eminent domain, people are concerned that property values might plummet. And what about revenue? If tourists are doing most of their driving on a limited-access highway, they’re not stopping in our general stores, they’re not experiencing the Maine way of life that attracts them here and we’re not getting the benefit of their business.

I understand the benefits of a good construction project, but the thought of turning rural communities into pass-over towns to benefit a private toll road is truly frightening.

Regrettably, my opponent, Sen. Doug Thomas, has tried to obscure the issue. For years, he believed every line fed to him by Peter Vigue, and uncritically pushed this project. The other day, he flip-flopped and called for the process to be slowed down. But in a radio interview soon after, he repeated that he still supports the highway’s construction.

I believe that folks in this district deserve to have their voices heard. My values and beliefs come from this district and the people I have served in the Millinocket area. My current campaign is based on listening to constituents in towns like Dover-Foxcroft, Guilford and Palmyra. I’ve attended several public hearings on the east-west highway, and have heard people ask tough questions. I’m not convinced anyone listened, however.

That’s the problem with our leaders in Augusta right now. They listen to a lot of interest groups, but I’m not sure they’re listening to the real people who are impacted the most by their decisions. They stand up for the interests of lobbyists, but not enough of them have the gumption to stand up for working people. I learn a lot more from constituents at church suppers than I do from a company sales pitch.

Critical decisions like the east-west highway are too important to swallow the arguments of one interest group hook, line and sinker, or to flip-flop back and forth on due to an impending election. I have a record of asking tough questions, and have always been willing to stand up to my own party if that is what is best for my district.

Rep. Herbie Clark is running for State Senate in Senate District 28.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/08/19/opinion/contributors/east-west-highway-concerns-larger-than-eminent-domain/ printed on July 23, 2014