DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine – Democrats and Republicans disagree on many points going into the home stretch of the 2014 campaign, but five participants at a Dover-Foxcroft forum on Thursday said they’re united on one issue.
They don’t like the concept of an east-west highway or utility corridor and won’t support any legislation that threatens private property rights.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud; Republican Paul Davis and Democrat David Ziemer, who are vying for Senate District 4; Norman Higgins, the Republican candidate for House District 120; and Ted O’Meara from Eliot Cutler’s staff attended the forum at Center Theatre, which drew approximately 80 people.
Others who responded in writing expressed similar opinions.
Organizers asked all candidates to respond to six questions related to the proposed limited-access highway from Calais to Coburn Gore being promoted by Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue. Many opponents say they’re concerned that the highway’s route could also include oil or natural gas pipelines and other utilities.
The questionnaire asked if candidates felt the corridor would be “beneficial or detrimental” to the region; how it would be taxed, if built; what “mitigation of equivalent value” would they endorse; what measures would they support to ensure residents get “maximum benefits”; if they would assure that residents along the route “have a say in its location and impact” and their opinion on federal laws that could benefit the proposed corridor.
Gov. Paul LePage, Cutler, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and 2nd Congressional District Democratic candidate Emily Cain answered the questions in writing. Second District Republican candidate Bruce Poliquin and 1st Congressional District GOP hopeful Isaac Misuik didn’t respond; and 2nd Congressional District independent candidate Blaine Richardson had planned to attend the forum but canceled at the last moment.
Michaud said that he didn’t know how the highway could be built “without some use of eminent domain. And if I’m elected governor, there’s no way I’d support legislation to allow a private entity to use eminent domain in the state of Maine.”
Michaud did say that he supports an east-west rail system “which is already in place.” He cited conversations he’s had with the Central Maine and Quebec Railway – the new owners of the former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad – about their plans to upgrade the line. “They said they’re going to start investing in the system to make it safer, which is good news,” Michaud said. “But as far as the east-west highway goes, I’m opposed to it.”
O’Meara said that Cutler feels that the state “already has a lot of roads and bridges that need to be fixed. That’s what we ought to be talking about, not building this new highway.” He also said that Cutler “strongly supports rail expansion” and has been skeptical of the east-west plans “because the developer hasn’t told us where it’s going to go.”
Davis echoed O’Meara’s assessment, saying that the public “is lacking information about this. We don’t know where it’s going to go, we don’t know if there are any benefits or how it’s going to be put together.”
The Republican lawmaker, who is finishing up his third term in the Maine House, cited his own experience with eminent domain when the state acquired some of his land many years ago to widen Route 23. “I didn’t like it, but you can’t argue with them (the state),” Davis said. “So I will do everything I can do to keep eminent domain out of this equation. And I don’t want to see one red cent of taxpayers’ money going toward this project.”
Ziemer said that the east-west corridor would add no value to the region. “When I look at this area, we already have so many things that could make our lives rich or richer,” Ziemer said. He cited the Three-Ring Binder Project to bring high-speed Internet service to rural areas as something “that would provide us with a lot more benefits than any piece of concrete could ever do.”
The Democratic candidate also said the area needs to maximum its value to farmers and foresters. “There are many working farms in the region and we need more of them,” he said.
Higgins was the only candidate present who discussed the east-west project with Vigue in person, but he said that the conversation wasn’t productive. “I asked him where the highway was going to go, and he said ‘We’re working on it,’” Higgins said. “Then I asked him: What’s in it for us? He said, ‘We’re still working on that as well.’ So I told him, ‘You need to work a little harder.’”
Higgins said he also had a lengthy phone conversation with Darryl Brown of Cianbro, the spokesman for the east-west corridor, right after Labor Day. “I don’t know any more about where it’s going or what the benefits are than I did when I had my initial meeting (with Vigue),” Higgins said. “Since then, there has been dead silence.”