Saturday, December 7, 2013
As supporters peel off the east-west highway feasibility study, it's important for everyone to focus on the real problem here. This is a top-down idea that is being championed by a big-business heavyweight, Cianbro Corp. CEO Peter Vigue, and Gov. Paul LePage, not one that has emerged from the public. Until it's sold to the people it would affect, it's bound to create political turmoil.
Protesters hold signs up prior to a public meeting in Dover-Foxcroft concerning the proposed east-west highway in May. The legislative sponsor of a study of the road says he underestimated opposition in his district.
2012 Press Herald file photo/Derek Davis
LePage announced Tuesday that he would slow down the progress of the $300,000 study that was approved by the Legislature this year. While it's unclear from the governor's statement exactly what won't be done in the short run, the announcement appears to be geared toward providing political cover for Sen. Douglas Thomas, R-Ripley, the study's legislative sponsor, who says now that he underestimated opposition to the highway from voters in his district.
This was brought home to him when his opponent, Rep. Herb Clark, D-Millinocket, once a supporter, started making traction as an opponent.
Thomas asked the governor to suspend the study until the Legislature can pass a constitutional amendment that would protect property owners from eminent domain, taking the idea off the table until after the election.
But the problem is not the election and it's not the study. The problem is that the political groundwork in which a community's concerns are brought to the State House and turned into law was not done here. The proof is that the bill's sponsor was surprised by the depth of the opposition among the people he's supposed to be representing. If this hadn't been an election year, he may not have found out at all.
Pushing the Legislature to approve a publicly funded feasibility study for a private, for-profit development now looks like the wrong strategy. Before all the supporters run for political cover, maybe they can get the highway's backers to remind the people who are supposed to benefit from a new toll road exactly why it is they need it.