CONTRIBUTORS

East-west corridor: Pig in a poke

Posted Feb. 17, 2013, at 3:43 p.m.

On Jan. 18, in Eastport and Calais, Darryl Brown presented Cianbro Corp.’s current plans for routing an east-west corridor through eastern Maine. Brown’s presentation was long on vague promises about economic development and avoidance of sensitive areas but short on maps showing the actual route. It did, however, reveal enough details for people well acquainted with the Down East landscape to make an educated guess of the corridor’s route and effects.

The privately owned corridor would include a four-lane highway authorized for Canadian tandem trucks. Earlier reports indicated Cianbro was intending to follow the Stud Mill Road. The recent announcement of the company’s commitment to avoid routing through the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership’s Sunrise Easement lands came as good news to many, including myself, concerned about the effects a truck highway and utility corridor would have on eastern Maine’s environment and recreation opportunities.

However, the route Cianbro is now proposing would mean cutting a longer swath closer to the coast, still crossing the Machias watershed, six other river systems and conserved areas.

Blocked from routing through Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Cianbro decided to “turn challenge into opportunity” by looping closer to the coast. Despite Halifax’s woes from underuse and a proposed superport in Melford, Nova Scotia, Brown believes connectivity to unobstructed deep-water ports at Eastport and Calais would make Maine a major player in global shipping. He wants to encourage development of distribution centers, providing jobs handling cargo off large container ships from Asia.

From Calais they now plan to route the 500-foot corridor east around Moosehorn’s Baring unit, then south to Route 214 where they may build an interchange for access from Eastport. From Route 214 the corridor would run west, likely crossing Route 9 near Wesley where there may be an interchange allowing access from Machias. From there the corridor would run north to “utilize a 35-mile section of the Stud Mill Road,” crossing the Penobscot River north of Bangor.

Brown’s presentation emphasized the company’s “commitment” to avoid “most” conserved lands, tribal lands, wetlands, deer yards, vernal pools and endangered species habitat, as much as possible. Never has the public seen any mapped portion of the actual route. Brown said the company’s routing plans are still a work in progress and not ready to reveal on maps.

Looking at all the watersheds in this area, it’s hard to imagine how the developers would be able to honor all their “commitments.” Besides the Machias River Waterway, the corridor would affect a number of other salmon and trout streams, wildlife areas, working forests and conservation lands open to hunting, fishing and other recreation, supporting guiding and ecotourism.

The area between Calais, Cobscook Bay and the Machias River frames many lakes and ponds settled with homes and camps. Eastport and other communities have growing local and tourist economies. How would these fare surrounded by major transportation infrastructure carrying trucks loaded with Chinese-manufactured goods to supply big-box retailers? Would the corridor development really bring meaningful jobs or long-term benefit to people who live here?

How would the fenced limited-access highway affect local travel patterns? The proponents say they would build overpasses for “all” multiuse gravel roads and would accommodate wildlife passage with “appropriately located” crossings.

Promises aside, highways built for high-speed heavyweight tandem trucks cannot weave around every damp spot along the way. Wetlands are filled in; ramps, roadbeds and abutments are built up; interchanges are developed. How much of Down East Maine’s uniquely well-preserved glacial landscape will be scraped up and used to build the highway? What about the aquifers under the gravel, streams and lakes fed by them, the cold-water fisheries? Besides gravel, the route aligns with convenient export of other natural resources in global demand: wind energy and water.

The environmental effects of runoff and spills could be disastrous, affecting the whole region downstream. Rail is many times safer than truck transport, less costly, with far fewer effects and fuel consumption. Why not improve existing rail lines? Brown says trucks do better at just-in-time delivery. Or is there something else “in the pipeline”? Maine’s rail lines are already being used to transport oil. Who are the investors?

Although growing public opposition has brought several corridor-related bills before the Legislature, the proponents of this project, backed by powerful corporate interests, are intent on pushing it through — and not disclosing much about the route or effects of this proverbial “pig in a poke.” It would be well for everyone in eastern Maine to learn and demand more information about the corridor and consider what far-reaching effects it would have on the environment, economies, communities and quality of life.

Stop the Corridor, a statewide coalition of concerned citizens and groups working to raise awareness about the project and effects, is planning two informational meetings: in Calais on March 13 at Washington County Community College, and in Machias on March 27 at the University of Maine. Both events will run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will combine a panel presentation with opportunity for public conversation. For information, visit www.stopthecorridor.org.

Jane Crosen is known for her hand-drawn maps of Maine regions. She lives in Penobscot, with a camp near Wesley, and does eastern outreach for Stop the East-West Corridor.

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