Thanks to some inherent problems, a vibrant network of well informed and deeply committed citizen activists, and some really excellent investigative journalism by Lance Tapley and Colin Woodard that brought light to truth not otherwise coming forth from Maine’s papers of record, Peter Vigue’s East West Highway is temporarily off the table. The dragon has been driven back into its cave. Despite an aggressive statewide Koch brothers style campaign of dis information by Vigue himself with tremendous support by the old asphalt lobby and many northern Republicans, by the time the election loomed, association with the East West Highway was a political poison pill. So the dragon was lead to its cave and told to stay there until it was safe to come out again. And it will. It will definitely re emerge.
There are plenty of inherent problems to solve behind the scenes before it can come out of the cave again: (1) state and federal roads do not allow and are not built to accommodate the huge mega trucks used in Canada ( 2) there is the big problem of interface with ,and use of ,public roads between Costigan and the private property and logging roads NW of Bangor that would be the main spine of the highway (3) without public guarantees for investors the cost of financing and the risks are too great for private investment even with an offset of income from utility corridor leasing (4) Quebec, we learned from Colin Woodard’s great investigative journalism, never heard of Peter Vigue or the East West Highway and his vision for that part of Quebec is definitely not theirs. http://www.pressherald.com/news/east-west-highway-link-not-yet-on-quebecs-age… (5) without expedited permitting and red tape cutting by the State it would be impossible to permit and impossible to show the “public benefit” necessary to justify what Vigue himself has acknowledged would be the largest environmental mitigation project ever undertaken in the U.S. (6) Native lands are unavoidably involved in any Calais to Coburn Gore Route and the Penobscot Nation has made it clear it is in absolute opposition to the road. Lance Tapley’s wonderful article lays out 15 reasons altogether why the highway is stalled out and he is spot on with his analysis <a href="http://portland.thephoenix.com/news/143732-15-reasons-the-east-west-highway-will-never-be-bui/.http://portland.thephoenix.com/news/143732-15-reasons-the-east-west-highway-w… style=””> But it, or another version of it, will for sure, remerge and we have some work to do to fend it off next time that we need to be doing now while behind closed doors Vigue and crew are doing their homework.
We learned from our year long engagement with the this dragon just how compelling and possibly lucrative this highway would be to speculative large land holders in the UT and we learned, though Vigue never disclosed the exact route, that two or three existing land holders all already deeply connected to energy corridor earnings, own more than 2/3 of the land that would be necessary to create this roadway with no eminent domain. But for the inconvenience of crossing public rivers and crossing over or using public roads in that stretch between Costigan and the N/w logging roads , and of course the inconvenience of environmental protection mandates under State and Federal laws it could be hugely lucrative via leasing fees,earned into perpetuity without ever giving up ownership of the land. We learned from court papers involving a dispute between Echo Easement Corridor LLC, a subsidiary of International paper who control a 2000’ easement corridor on which the Stud Mill Rd sits and Kennebec West Forest LLC, successor in interest to most of international Papers holdings, that Echo stood to gain $350 million if the Stud mill Rd is used for the East West Highway. The stud mill is 60 miles of the total 220miles for the proposed highway. Kennebec West Forest LLC, whoever they are, own most of the land along any route except that inconvenient middle 1/3. That translates to almost $1 billion in potential leasing fees for Kennebec & one or two other owners. That’s before you even get to whatever share of tolls and profits might be theirs in the bargain. That’s a powerful incentive to not let this idea go.. You can bet behind closed doors Vigue, whoever Kennebec West Forest is and the old asphalt lobby ..Maria Fuentes, John Melrose are working the legislature, pressuring MDOT, pressuring LePage.
While they are doing their homework, we have to do ours. We have two very important goals we must achieve before spring of 2014 to prevent this dragon coming out of its cave..or one of is cousins..another version of the East West Highway.
Our first homework is to repeal the highway privatization statute, Title 23 Section 4251 (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/23/title23sec4251.html ) secretly passed behind closed doors by our legislature in 2010 and written by Maria Fuentes, John Melrose and Cianbro with the East West Highway specifically in mind. That piece of legislation, still on the books delivers:
(1) public guarantees of private financing and up to 50% in public financing
(2) eminent domain
(3) expedited permitting
(4) complete private control of the roadway that by passes normal public highway labor issues and toll debates
Private highways have been a consumer/user nightmare wherever they have been used and companies like Macquarie, undoubtedly known to Vigue through his work on the Dulles Greenway , a Maquarie owned private highway (http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/1237) Macquarie, a global company , specializes in these roadways as easy money:no risk, 100% public guarantees on financing, guaranteed income, flexibility of labor that would not be allowed on a public highway project. They go around the world trying to invent projects trying to call them forth from state legislatures with dwindling budgets and failing infrastructure.. Maquarie bought the controversial TransTexas Corridor, a project that is identical in concept to this new utility corridor version in this latest resurrection of Vigue’s East West Highway. Maquarie is not the kind of company we would want to welcome to Maine. In Texas, to suppress negative coverage of the corridor they bought a string of small local newspapers who had been opposing it.(http://24ahead.com/blog/archives/006214.html)
Our lobbyist authored highway privatization statute allows any transportation facility in Mane to be privatized and is one of the worst piece so privatization legislation ever written, if the public interest is your point of view. We must right up front first thing this legislative session make a swift and huge effort to force the transportation committee to repeal this poorly framed lobbyist biased statute. Without it, no version of the East West Highway is possible. ( Interesting footnote, before this awful law was enacted, Eliot Cutler supported creation of a privatization statute for the East West Highway as part of his gubernatorial platform..His joined at the hip buddy Dennis Daimon is the one who haunchoed this bill through the legislature) The new transportation committee members have been announced. Chairs are Senator Ronald F. Collins of York ( R ) “Ronald F. Collins, Co-Chair Joint Committee on Transportation “ <rcollins7 @maine.rr.com> and Representative Richard Cebra ( R ) of Naples “Richard Cebra, Co-Chair Joint Committee on Transportation” <RepRich.Cebra@legislature.maine.gov> . Write to them, write to your reps in your own voice and demand a repeal of this badly flawed and wrongly framed statute in which the public has had no say. We may want to discuss privatization in the future, but after we delete this bad law from the books before April 1, 2014.
Our second major citizens “must do” to keep the dragon in the cave requires a little more of us but is not beyond us. Take a look at LUPC’s current rule for private roads in the UT, remember that Kennebec West Forest LLC and one or two other interests already own 2/3 of the needed route for the E/W Highway Utility Corridor and imagine what would have happened if by some miracle the Highway project had found/does find a way to proceed outside of the privatization statute. We need entirely new standards for private roads in the UT ( permeable surface, elevated bridges rather than fill in wetlands, limits on width and length and on interface with public roadways. This is urgently needed actually as the LUPC reorganization statute, crafted by the Maine Forest Products Council, just removed all forestry related roads in the UT from any oversight . We need better standards for public highways in environmentally sensitive areas as well..in statute. The Adirondack Highway standards(NY) may be a good model and starting place.
The East West Highway is only sleeping..not gone. While it is sleeping we must get these two important legislative initiatives done before it awakes and re emerges from its cave.
Lindsay Newland Bowker Cove Meadow January 2 2013
A compendium of Summer news on the East West Highway as voices of opposition expressed in local legislation and business petitions grows and grows.
For more and for regular updates see mainenvironews.org