Keep Aroostook a No White Elephant Zone

17 years ago

To the editor:
A “White Elephant” is loose in the land, headed in our direction. Rumor has it, this one would make Freddie Vahlsing’s White Elephant look like a cute, cuddly kitten by comparison, and it would leave us wishing it was only as bad as Freddie’s if it gets here.
   It’s Maine DOT and federal “experts” who hope to bring this behemoth to town. And incredibly, they’ve even found some hosts for it — someone willing to “take care” of it (even if we all end up getting trampled by it). It’s name? It’s The Aroostook Bypass and Corridor Management Plan. Now, as with all White Elephants, its name alone won’t give you much appreciation for all the trouble it’s already caused other places it’s called home—or how much it will cause us if it comes to town. For that, you’ve got to get up close and personal and take a really good look at this monster.
For decades, we’ve implored MDOT to bring something good and useful here. In fact, we’ve given them lots of money and good arguments to convince them to do something helpful for us: build a highway.
Thus, when they announced they instead want to bring us something really idiotic and harmful, imagine our surprise. Talk about shocking! So people went in droves to public meetings and explained how the White Elephant isn’t what we had in mind at all, giving many good, thoughtful reasons why we don’t want it. After all, most of us here remember just how long it took to recuperate from the last White Elephant brought here. Unfortunately, the Elephant’s handlers didn’t seem to get the point (they didn’t seem to be listening at all, sorry to say).
Ah, but they surely did notice one thing: A group (unelected, as it were), claiming to speak for us. For whatever reason, LEAD got up and said, “We’ll help bring the White Elephant to town.” They actually liked the idea. It was very odd.
Even odder is that the only other people saying they wouldn’t mind if the White Elephant was brought here were some municipal officials. Now, they’re smart people. But even to the White Elephant’s state and federal handlers, it must have seemed bizarre to see so many people expressing so many substantive, profound, and valid reasons why they didn’t want this White Elephant brought to town, thanks anyway—only to have the people’s own representatives then say just the opposite! Very odd indeed.
But it gets even better. Even though we know full well it’s a White Elephant, we’re still asked to give money to help convince its handlers to bring it here just as fast as they can! Huh?? We’re told (just like last time!), “We know what we’re doing—come on, trust us.” P.T. Barnum couldn’t do better.
So here, exactly, is what the White Elephant’s handlers would have us say we’re okay with: hundreds of millions of dollars being spent…and still no highway. That’s not a joke! Imagine it (if you can): hundreds of millions of dollars—and still no highway. Mind-boggling, flabbergasting, whacko, insane—pick your descriptive. It’s our own Big Dig. Yes, having a sense of humor is important, but it’s a bit much to ask us to laugh at this one, isn’t it?
LEAD and town officials are clearly way out of touch with the rest of us (hopefully they’re not imagining us as simpletons who just don’t know much?). They’re also completely, marvelously wrong about the whole half-baked idea: this White Elephant would accomplish the neat trick of not only being counterproductive and project-killing when it comes to finally getting the highway we want and need, but also simultaneously causing more actual harm than Freddie Vahlsing’s ever dreamed of doing.
It doesn’t weigh a thing—not the economics, the feasibility, the cost/benefit ratios, the actual process itself, the social engineering—none of it. What we have here is a White Elephant; full stop. And LEAD wants us to have it come here? Someone wants us to be glad we’re being offered it? What on earth are they thinking? It’s sheer craziness.
The stakes are too high to allow the first step. Community building derives from everyone’s agenda, including future generations. The fatally-flawed process used to try to bring this White Elephant to town has included some of the very worst possible elements of bad public policy planning: group think; incremental error-making (the “rolling snowball” dynamic); top-down thinking; “divide-and-conquer” local outreach and relations; power plays; sloppy research designed for appearances and obfuscation rather than substance and exposition—this is exactly what happens when the idea you’re working with is a lousy one.
LEAD and municipal governments won’t ram this White Elephant down our throats—they may not remember how it turned out the last time one came to town, but we do. It wasn’t very fun or pretty.
Show them we meant it when we said the County’s a NO White Elephant zone!

Jim Cyr
Caribou