A private developer has proposed a $2 billion, 220-mile highway connecting Calais to the east and Coburn Gore to the west — and all documents pertaining to the project are under seal. That’s because of a 2010 exemption to Maine’s right-to-know law that, as the Portland Press-Herald editorialized, “you could drive a truck through.”
Under the exemption, records about the proposed “east-west highway” will remain secret until the Maine Department of Transportation decides whether to move ahead. This lack of accountability is an outrageous breach of the public trust. By rights, the officials responsible for writing and passing the 2010 exemption deserve the Muzzle. We’ll award it to the DOT as their proxy.
Fortunately, advocates of open government succeeded in undoing the worst of the 2010 exemption. On June 5, Governor Paul LePage signed legislation that maintains the legitimate need to protect confidential business information and trade secrets while subjecting most aspects of such partnerships to public scrutiny.
“Decisions about whom the government enters into partnership with and how officials spend our taxpayer money are certainly matters of public importance,” wrote Rachel Healy, communications director for the ACLU of Maine, in a commentary for the New England First Amendment Center.
The east-west highway is a controversial idea. According to the Associated Press, business owners this spring told the legislature’s transportation committee that the highway would cause them significant harm. They — and everyone in Maine — deserve to be treated with respect. A transparent process will provide that.