The current controversy over the Mountain Division railroad upgrade and putting funding for it on hold so a trail could be finished raises questions, as The Press Herald has pointed out, about the importance of “boosting our economy,” the need for alternative methods of transportation and the compatibility of trails and rails now and in the future.

Rising oil prices indicate the need for a transportation system that moves people and goods using less oil and gives Americans convenient, transportation choices.

Transportation consumes more than 70 percent of the approximately 850 million gallons of oil used daily in the United States and costs on average nearly 20 percent of American’s household budgets. Investment in 21st century transportation infrastructure can reduce our dependence on oil, create jobs and save families and manufacturers money.

In 1983 Congress, concerned about the rapidly decreasing numbers of operating rail lines, amended the National Trails System Act to create the rail banking program so that abandoned rail lines could be preserved through interim conversion to trail use.

The operative word here is interim. The transportation planning in the 21st century demands a new look at that trend to trail banking.

While the Sierra Club has for more than 100 years promoted “enjoying the outdoors” and preserving our natural resources for recreation, the Maine Chapter thinks that the Mountain Division could be a key commuter line from Portland to Standish and rail freight beyond.

This would open opportunities for job creation. During the Maine Department of Transportation’s informational meetings last fall regarding the proposed work on the Mountain Division, we suggested that the MDOT convene a meeting of rail advocates, trail advocates and individuals and groups who recognize the need for a big-picture plan for transportation.

As David Bernhardt begins his new job as commissioner of MDOT, perhaps this could be among his first actions.

Joan B. Saxe

Energy and Transportation Team

Sierra Club/Maine

Freeport

It’s not the smart grid, it’s the clueless process

The issue many people have is not with the smart grid concept in general, it’s with CMP choosing a particular implementation technology (wireless RF) without adequate public input or disclosure.

Not only are there legitimate health concerns, but there are also privacy concerns and technical concerns. For example, after smart meters were installed in my neighborhood, my wireless router became borderline unusable, even though we had made CMP leave the old meter on our house!

I basically have to have the laptop right next to the router in order to not lose connection repeatedly, which defeats the whole purpose of having a wireless router.

There are ways for smart grids to be implemented that do not use RF transmission. One way is to use the power lines themselves to transmit the data back to CMP. Another is to use a dedicated hard-wired data line, or even existing phone lines.

Instead, CMP decided on the wireless solution without public input and then tried to sneak it into service before anyone knew what was happening.

Then, when confronted with health concerns, it moved to “prove” its safety by hiring the same outside agency the cigarette companies used to “prove” that second-hand smoke is not harmful.

Given the questions and concerns about these devices, is it really smart to wait until after they have been installed on every home and business in southern Maine to figure out if they cause problems?

Is it really unreasonable, considering the massive scope and impact of this effort, to insist upon due diligence and an open and transparent investigation into these legitimate concerns before we are all forced to choose between having one of these devices on our houses or not receiving electrical service?

The answer, in both cases, must be no.

Aaron Scifres

Cape Elizabeth

We could solve pot problems in one step: Legalization

I am writing in response to the March 8 Maine Voices column, “Prescription for medical marijuana not quite right.”

As a Maine citizen and possible victim of the attack against our “quality of life” and “public safety” by marijuana cultivators Lt. Frank Clark alludes to in his column, I ask that we take a look at the bigger picture.

By branding marijuana cultivation as “criminal activity” and prohibiting recreational use, politicians and law enforcement ostensibly create for themselves the legal headaches Lt. Clark cites.

By creating and enforcing safe cultivation laws, designated large-scale cultivation areas outside of residential zones, and working with growers to legitimize their business, state officials could effectively eliminate the need for a black market and shoddy underground growing operations.

As for the protection of our children and quality of life, consider the effects that alcohol (legal to consume and manufacture privately) has on both.

Joseph Small

Portland

LePage’s estate tax plan will attract entrepreneurs

The March 14 article, “Businesses get say on tax breaks,” reports that some state legislators are concerned that Gov. LePage’s proposed estate tax reform will only benefit Maine’s wealthiest residents.

Ironically, some of these same legislators say they are looking to draw investment into the state to create jobs for all Mainers. If they are serious about jobs, then they have plenty of reasons to support the governor when it comes to estate taxes.

A recent Connecticut Department of Revenue study, for example, found that states without an estate tax produced twice as many new jobs and their economies grew nearly 50 percent more from 2004-2007 than states with such taxes.

An American Family Business Foundation study authored by a former director of the Congressional Budget Office found that without a federal estate tax, 1.5 million new jobs would be created. Repealing Maine’s estate tax would have a similar positive impact on job creation.

Gov. LePage’s proposal to raise the exemption is actually rather modest. If the lawmakers really want to encourage maximum job-creation for average Mainers, then they ought to scrap the estate tax entirely.

Dick Patten

President, American Family Business Institute

Washington, D.C.