SKOWHEGAN, Maine — A group of eight people addressed the Somerset County Commissioners on Wednesday opposing the proposed east-west highway.
Three commissioners heard the testimony, which ranged from environmental concerns, small business impacts, transportation alternatives and the definition of wealth.
“To us, real wealth is a kind that can’t be counted in dollars,” said Harry Akkermann of Harmony. “Rural Maine is a world-class treasure the same as the Grand Canyon.”
The proposed east-west corridor includes a 220-mile toll road connecting Calais to Coburn Gore, creating a route from New Brunswick to Quebec. Cianbro Corp. President and CEO Peter Vigue has been a leading voice in favor of the route.
Vigue has argued that such a roadway would improve Maine’s overall economy, offering a particular boost for rural Maine communities devastated by the loss of traditional manufacturing and resource-based jobs. Details about the proposed route for the highway have yet to be announced.
The commissioners room inside the Somerset County Courthouse was filled to capacity with 30 people in attendance. Speakers presented their views during the regular commissioners meeting for about 50 minutes. No one spoke in favor of the proposed highway. The commissioners took no action. They simply listened.
Chuck Peabody of The Forks owns a rafting business and warned a highway traveling through central Somerset County and through the gorge could be detrimental to the area.
“To blast a road through there, 10 rafting companies would go out of business,” he said. “I’d be one of them.”
Peabody said he had a list of 185 business owners with employees from Orono to Bethel who have signed on against the corridor.
Barry Dana of Solon said people and the commissioners should be concerned with what they are leaving to future generations.
“How important is money over the life of our children?” Dana asked the commissioners. “[Future generations] will be the judge of our actions.”
“You get to decide what happens, we don’t,” said Patti Dowse of Cambridge.
However, Commissioner Linda Quinn said that likely isn’t true.
“We’re probably in the same boat you are as far as who has the power [to decide on the corridor],” she said. “The may ask us on a document what our opinion is … but it will probably fall on deaf ears.”
Towns in Piscataquis and Penobscot counties have enacted moratoriums against corridor development, including Monson, Sangerville, Dexter and Charleston.