HARBORSIDE — Press Herald editors are right to question the propriety of allocating taxpayer dollars to determine the feasibility of Cianbro construction company’s proposed east-west highway through Maine’s North Woods (Opinion, Feb. 19).

Legislators’ endorsement of the highway is wrongheaded, especially when human services are being cut to the bone. For the sum demanded, $300,000 – or whatever it costs once the Department of Transportation puts the project out for bids – there are far more urgent priorities.

But look deeper at the plan for a Canada connector and you will see, I hope, that more is at issue than charging citizens of our state unreasonably to evaluate a private toll road.

In his presentation to the legislature’s Transportation Committee on Feb. 14, Peter Vigue called his project a corridor for utilities and communications as well as for vehicle transport. We must ask: What utilities would he have in mind?

Close observers along the route of destruction have noted recently that a massive LPG (propane) tank now being proposed for Searsport would be of great value to major energy companies engaged in natural-gas fracking in Canada. In response to protests against hydrofracking, a new waterless fracking technique is being tried by companies like Chevron, using a propane gel instead of water. (See patexia.com, “Fracking New Brunswick”.)

Searsport town officials, who are vocal in their support for both an east-west highway and an LPG tank – along with a container port on Sears Island – are promoting these heavy industries for reasons that become obvious once the dots are connected. Propane could be trucked from Searsport to New Brunswick and Quebec for use in gas fracking, and then LNG could be piped out along the east-west highway to various Atlantic ports.

Quite apart from the primary objection the toll road poses for Maine – enabling Canadian truckers to move imported goods from the port of Halifax to Quebec – this corridor with pipelines and power lines as well as massive trucks and construction equipment would be an environmental nightmare. Pipelines always leak. They would pose serious fire and explosion hazards and security threats, and the damage from innumerable pollution sources would be irreversible.

Consider the 230-mile route to be hacked out and paved through the North Woods, spanning a half-mile width from Calais to Coburn Gore: It would impinge on Moosehead Lake and other significant landmarks, destroying priceless wetlands and wildlife habitat and old-growth forests. Three major rivers and the Appalachian Trail would have to be bridged.

To Peter Vigue’s contention that his Canada connector would fill Maine’s “hollow middle,” we say that our heartland is not hollow. It is teeming with precious life – wildlife as well as human inhabitants who live there because they cherish its culture and undeveloped topography. For visitors from all over the world, these natural resources are a respite from industrialized society. For resort owners in the area who uphold truly green values, maintaining rustic camps and cabins for back-country recreation and heritage tourism, an east-west highway would ruin their peace and tranquility. Arguably it would also decrease land values and depress local economies dependent on agriculture.

Taking the lead in the campaign opposing this monstrous industrial corridor is Defending Water for Life in Maine (defendingwater.net/maine). The group’s director, Chris Buchanan, points out the startling truth that to encourage more fossil-fuel use and contribute to climate disruption is to move in the wrong direction.

The group became involved out of concern for water mining (draining aquifers) and various extractive industries that ship bottled water, wood chips and other scarce raw materials we all depend on to global markets. But clearly there are many more multinational corporations that stand to profit at the expense of Maine citizens. Like the Searsport LPG tank and container port, the East-West Transportation, Utilities, and Communications corridor is a bad idea, and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop once the various elements of it become subject to federal regulation. With voting imminent, our legislators must hear from us now, without delay, while there is still time to voice opposition to LD 1671 (now a “resolve,” nonbinding but with ominous implications). Sponsors of the bill as “emergency” legislation and those who serve on the Transportation Committee, in particular, must answer to their constituents for their irresponsible conduct.

 

– Special to the Press Herald