There’s no denying that on a U.S. map, Maine looks like a sore thumb jutting up into the nether regions of the North. But on maps that are less U.S.-centric, maps that place the U.S. within the context of North America, Maine begins to look different. Instead of a dead end, Maine is part of a natural east-west corridor. That corridor includes shipping ports in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick, and shipping and railroad hubs in Buffalo, N.Y., and Montreal, Quebec, which feed into the vast, populous Midwest.
Transportation planners, railroad and shipping executives, and the governors and premiers of the states and Canadian provinces within this corridor have been generally supportive of improving the region’s roads, railroads and ports, and linking them so goods can move efficiently, east to west. They also have worked to persuade policymakers and businesses that the so-called Atlantica corridor holds economic promise for the region. A federal grant has paid for the first-ever multistate, multiprovince study of the feasibility of improving the existing east-west transportation infrastructure.
Tough questions linger about the Atlantica concept. Chief among them is: What would Maine gain by being midway along this trade conduit? Handling, manufacturing and material supply jobs are more likely to be created at the east and west ends of the corridor, not at the midpoint. Atlantica advocates counter that Maine is better off being on a busy road than being on a dead-end road.
Whatever becomes of the Atlantica idea, its proponents would do well not to dismiss its critics, or perpetuate the perception that private business interests and government leaders are working behind the scenes on a plan.
A group of about 30 people, calling themselves Maine Atlantica Watch, protested the recent meeting in Bar Harbor of New England governors and Maritime province premiers. Though Atlantica wasn’t the focus of the meeting, the protesters argued that the sessions were driven by corporate, not public interests, a perception that can be resolved with more public discussion.
As appealing as the Atlantica concept is for those who believe it capitalizes on Maine’s and the region’s assets, concerns about highways and LNG ports are legitimate.
Atlantica advocates must work to have the planning process be as transparent as possible. And the burden is on them to make the case for spending money – likely billions – on making it a reality. Local support, and local input, is critical. Unless a majority of residents believe it would improve the economy, they won’t support it.