Wednesday, May 22, 2013
By Tux Turkel email@example.com
Peter Vigue is used to freely jetting around North America in search of economic opportunities. In recent months, though, he has felt it necessary to bring along a private security team when he drives to Dover-Foxcroft, Lincoln and Augusta.
Vigue is the chairman and chief executive officer of Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp., one of the East Coast's largest industrial contractors. Now Vigue, who's 65, is pursuing what might be the most ambitious project in his long career -- a 230-mile toll highway crossing the state from Calais to Coburn Gore.
At an estimated cost of $2 billion, the East-West Highway would be among the most expensive projects in Maine history. If early reactions are a sign, it also could spark one of the state's most heated development battles.
Despite its economic promise, some people don't like the East-West Highway. They dislike it enough, Vigue said, to threaten him personally and make him fear for the safety of his work force. That's why he travels with bodyguards to speaking engagements about the highway plan.
"I have enough information to recognize that we're a target," he said last week. "There are organizations and people that want to discourage us from going forward."
Vigue wouldn't elaborate on the threats. A search of Maine State Police data, requested by the Maine Sunday Telegram, failed to turn up a record of complaints by Vigue to the agency. Vigue said that's because he has purposely chosen not to contact police about the threats, but to take other actions that he considers appropriate.
"I live in a very proactive world, not a reactive world," he said.
Security is bound to be in place Thursday, when Vigue will be in Dover-Foxcroft to make his first large public presentation on the proposed project.
Opponents are using the event to hold a rally that's expected to draw hundreds of people. They won't only be tree huggers, according to Chris Buchanan, an organizer for Defending Water for Life in Maine.
Buchanan is working to form a statewide coalition to fight the project. The highway plan is touching a nerve with people angry about corporate takeovers, landowner rights, globalization and loss of local control, she said.
"Our strategy is to bring everybody on board," she said. "Republicans. Democrats. Tea party. Libertarians. Anarchists."
Buchanan said she's not aware of anyone intimidating Vigue. However, the fact that a project in such an early stage is generating so much friction is noteworthy, according to Pete Didisheim, advocacy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
"There's not a project of this scale that could go forward without it becoming a major lightning rod," he said.
The council, Maine's leading environmental group, is expressing concern about the proposal, but hasn't joined the opposition formally. If the plan moves ahead, Didisheim said he expects a political and legal battle that will play out over five to 10 years.
That timeline makes the highway reminiscent of other protracted controversies: Plum Creek's development plan around Moosehead Lake, which took eight years and a tussle at the state's highest court to win final approval this year; and the failed referendums in the 1980s aimed at shutting the Maine Yankee nuclear plant, which owners closed in 1996 for economic reasons.
But those battles were more place-centered. The East-West Highway covers more ground. Symbolically, Didisheim said, it slices the state in half with a private, limited-access roadway that could block wildlife passage and encourage sprawl.
"Two-hundred and thirty miles of pavement across Maine's North Woods, the signature landscape of the state of Maine, that's a big deal," he said.
Vigue also thinks it's a big deal, but for different reasons. He sees the highway making Maine a gateway for international trade across eastern Canada.
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