Around the Region

Cianbro’s Brown predicts EW toll route will happen within 10 years

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writers

    One group sees a path filled with natural beauty and splendor. The other sees a pathway filled with economic prosperity. The battle over the proposed East-West Highway has pitted rural Maine’s property owners, farmers and environmentalists against those who see a golden opportunity to boost the state’s floundering economy.

    The highway’s major proponent has been Cianbro President Peter Vigue who has led the charge to construct the $2.1 privately-financed 220-mile toll highway. The route would link Calais across the state to Coburn Gore in Franklin County. Vigue believes the combination of the deepwater port in Eastport and the East-West Highway will put the state in midst of the global economy.
    He envisions that Eastport will link Maine to European markets by transporting the cargo from Washington County to worldwide distribution centers in Chicago and Detroit. The project would result in job creation along with additional tax revenue to local communities and the state.
    However, Vigue’s viewpoint is not shared by everyone. The proposal has received criticism about the potential negative environmental impact it would have on the state’s rural landscape. Opponents have also been critical about what they perceive as the “secretive nature of the project.”
    In an attempt to derail the highway, several communities in the Penquis Valley have either enacted or are in the process of enacting a six-month moratorium against privately-funded projects. The first was Monson who unanimously enacted the moratorium last September.
    The town’s selectmen recently extended the moratorium six more months to give the town’s planning board more time to write an ordinance. Monson enacted the moratoriums even though preliminary information from Cianbro officials indicated the highway would not run through the town.
    Monson Selectman Bryant Brown is one of the citizens who spearheaded the effort to put the moratorium to a vote during a special town meeting. Brown has worked with “Stop the Corridor” and the Sierra Group in opposition to the project. He  believes the highway would be detrimental to the region’s environment. Brown is also concerned about the highway being used as a corridor with  communication, utility and pipeline components.
    Monson doesn’t have a comprehensive plan to deal with privately-owned projects. Brown believes a strong showing of opposition is important to discourage the highway’s supporters.
    “We need to show that the people of this area don’t want it,” Brown said. “The ordinance won’t stop the highway, but it will put some restrictions on where it will go. We’re hoping with enough opposition that they have second thoughts about proceeding.”
    The town of Sangerville was the second community in Piscataquis County to adopt a six-month moratorium. Residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of it during their March 30 town meeting. While Monson is not part of the preliminary route, Sangerville is. Cianbro officials have proposed a route which would run south of Dover-Foxcroft traveling through the town on its way to Dexter.
    One of the highway’s proposed off-ramps would be located near Route 23 in Sangerville. The proposed location is especially problematic to Edie Vose, who along with her husband, operates a farm there. The couple’s Mossflower Farm includes an apiary and organic apple orchard.
    Vose became involved in an organized effort to stop the East-Highway over a year ago. She has worked with community volunteers to organize rallies and educate the community on how the project would impact local farms like hers.
    “We have worked hard to live here because we value much of what is the opposite that the corridor represents,” Vose said. “We should decide, not a few multi-nationalists.”
    The next community that may impose a moratorium is the town of Abbot. The selectmen agreed during their April 16 board meeting to seek advice from Monson and Sangerville officials about enacting a six-month moratorium of their own.
    While the Monson and Sangerville moratoriums originated by the citizens-led effort, Abbot’s originated from the board of selectmen. Abbot, like the other communities considering a moratorium, doesn’t have a comprehensive plan. The selectmen aren’t proposing a moratorium out of opposition to the project, but rather to be prepared in case the route runs through the town.
    “This doesn’t mean we are against the East-West Highway,” said Selectman Basil Patterson. “I think the town needs some time to get more information about how it will affect us. Whether you’re for it or against it, I think everyone would agree the right thing to do is become better informed.”
    The town of Garland may also hold a special town meeting later this summer to consider imposing a moratorium. Matthew Newman has been involved with the like-minded Garland residents who oppose the highway.
    Newman, a Pennsylvania native, moved to Garland after working in the Washington, D.C. area. He moved his family to Maine to escape living in an urban setting. He believes the highway would adversely impact the quality of life he’s grown accustomed to.
    He hopes the recent trend of moratoriums sprouting up in the area is successful in persuading Cianbro against going forward with the project. His involvement in the organized opposition has resulting in him learning about state and federal laws. He attended the recent democracy schools and rights-based organization trainings held in the area which educated him about the challenge facing the highway opponents.
    “We’ve learned a town doesn’t have the legal right to say ‘no’ to  a company that wants to build a project like this,” Newman said. “The municipality is not on the same legal footing with a big corporation. The town doesn’t have the legal authority to stop it.”
    Cianbro Program Manager Darryl Brown stated in February that it may take 10 years, but the East-West Highway would ultimately be built. He envisions a difficult process in obtaining various permits from the towns and unorganized townships as well as court battles waged by environmentalist groups.
    Brown made the statement based on the state’s need for economic development. When Brown made his bold his pronouncement, he was speaking at a Farmington Chamber of Commerce meeting.
    “If I don’t believe in what I’m doing, I probably ought not to be doing it. That’s why I believe this project is going to happen,” Brown said. “The second reason is that it has to happen. Maine is at the economic crossroads where something bold and positive needs to be done. This project will take some time, but  when it does, it will bring a lot of desperately needed jobs to an economic depressed area.”

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.