Politics

March 23, 2013

East-west highway foes pursue access to information

Much of a hearing on confidentiality also serves as a forum for criticisms of the proposed $2 billion project.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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Jeff McCabe

Contributed photo

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said confidentiality protections are too broad, and McCabe's bill would benefit future public-private partnerships, even if there aren't any now.

In written testimony, Bellows said "no agency should receive a blanket exception for all activities surrounding a particular program."

But Van Note and Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, said allowing public view of partnership documents in projects' infancies would render the public-private program meaningless.

Both added that they have never received public-private partnership applications, but they said companies considering large investments in Maine need protection from competition before the department acts on project details.

"If you're going to remove this confidentiality provision, get rid of (the partnerships)," Mills said. "Repeal it. Don't leave it on the books as a false representation that they're available in this state because without these confidentiality provisions, you probably don't have a workable tool."

Much of the public hearing, though, served as a referendum on the east-west highway project, with residents of communities near the corridor's proposed route speaking not just to transparency, but to criticisms of the highway project.

Charles Fitzgerald of Atkinson, a Piscataquis County town just east of Dover-Foxcroft, said he and many others are concerned because if the project is approved, it might not be just a road, but a 2,000-foot corridor that would cut through sensitive environmental areas.

In a 2012 interview with MaineBiz, Vigue said the project could be more than a highway: It could be a "transportation, utility and communications corridor" that the magazine described as "a 2,000-foot-wide swath that leaves room for future needs -- whatever they might be."

And Robert Morrison, of Charleston in western Penobscot County, said the scope of the project leaves the possibility open to an oil pipeline running alongside the highway.

"Would you want a partner that kept secrets from you? Particularly a partner that had tried to deceive you for a year or more?" he asked legislators. "No, no, no."

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

On Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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