WESTBROOK – It seems the Press Herald admires power politics.
Scorched-earth litigation tactics used by Pike Industries to sanitize illegal blasting on Spring Street in Westbrook — blasting that a Maine judge ordered stopped — have yielded a recent photo of two CEOs shaking hands.
Idexx Laboratories and Pike were all smiles. Westbrook’s mayor said lawyers have produced a document that Pike likes.
The Press Herald instantly waved the pom-poms, issuing an editorial proclamation that “this issue is resolved.” The mayor gushed about “wonderful diplomacy.”
The hoopla had Pike, its lawyers and PR consultants beaming. In fact, the mayor’s press conference (masterminded by Pike’s PR firm) was emblematic of the certain outcome this process foreshadowed since it began.
You could almost hear the money being counted, and sense the deep satisfaction with a plan well-executed.
Two big companies are happy, the mayor is happy, the lawyers are happy and the PR people are happy. As if pre-ordained, formerly illegal activity now magically becomes legal, with the stroke of a lawyer’s pen. Done deal.
Except for one minor detail — a “done deal” might be news to the Westbrook City Council. You see, the mayor doesn’t make law in Westbrook, the council does. And councilors may have a thing or two to say about this so-called “agreement,” especially after absorbing the serious flaws with which it is riddled.
The document would end the spat between Pike, owned by a foreign, $30 billion conglomerate, and Idexx, a $1 billion, publicly-traded company.
But honest homeowners and small, Maine-owned businesses have been shortchanged. For instance, Pike furnishes rights to Idexx that no other neighbor gets. If Idexx gets privileges, then every neighbor should get them.
No single abutter should get larger buffers or special rights. Equal protection under the law is supposedly a fundamental right for everyone. Unequal protection, because your business is smaller or because you are a homeowner, is wrong.
Pike’s lawyers made sure the agreement will “supersede the Westbrook Code of Ordinances now existing or hereafter enacted.” The Code of Ordinances, Westbrook’s complete list of laws, will not apply to Pike. This clause alone renders the entire agreement unacceptable.
Pike has immunity from future code changes that incorporate environmental, health and safety improvements.
If any business had this right in the past, it could disregard requirements like smoke detectors, or even access for the disabled. Pike is the only business in Westbrook that will now enjoy this very special status.
There’s more. Pike’s plans for building and blasting will now circumvent independent review boards (Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, etc.) in Westbrook. Only city employees, serving at the pleasure of the mayor, will review Pike’s submissions.
Also ignored are concerns that blasting might accelerate subterranean migration of the dangerous carcinogen trichloroethylene, known as TCE, and other toxins into Clark Brook, and then into the Stroudwater River.
The property next door to Pike’s proposed new pit, 2 Eisenhower Drive, is a former municipal burning dump. It’s covered with monitoring wells, thanks to a significant TCE spill several years ago.
TCE has already spread onto Pike’s property, which Pike knew before buying it. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has acknowledged that blasting could fracture bedrock in the neighborhood and accelerate toxic migration via groundwater.
Yet the agreement includes none of the 12 recommendations made by the DEP. Zero. As written by Pike’s attorneys, no enforcement mechanisms exist. DEP will be powerless to step in until after TCE is proven to be poisoning neighboring properties and rivers.
The fact that blasting on Spring Street is illegal has always been an inconvenient truth for Pike. No longer, and problem solved. Pike’s lawyers have written new law (blasting will now be legal) because Pike demanded it.
The City Council did not write this new law, Westbrook citizens did not establish new law by referendum, and the courts are prevented from establishing with finality what the law is.
Thankfully, one thing editorial writers and Pike’s lawyers cannot write off is the crucial and independent role of the City Council.
The council meets Monday night at 7 p.m. For equal protection under the law in Westbrook, elected officials looking out for the little guy may be the only hope we have.