About a week and a half ago I noticed that the NH House Committee on Ethics announced that it was starting an investigation of the matter relative to the state lease of the Milford-Bennington Railroad and the influence of Rep. Peter Leishman over the lease. Rep. Leishman is the owner of the Milford-Bennington Railroad.
I’m not sure this investigation is even warranted. Rather than investigating Rep. Leishman and the lease process used by the state I think the investigation should have focused on the vote to grant the contract and why there was no public hearing after the issue was raised by Pan Am Railways, another applicant for the lease of this state owned railroad line. I think the Governor and Executive Council acted too quickly to have a vote and renew the lease once the investigation by the Attorney General was completed. Pan Am Railways has made claims that NH could generate more revenue from the Milford-Bennington lease and I think this should have been explored further. I’m also wondering why the Executive Council moved so quickly for a vote after the issues had been raised by Pan Am Railways, “I’m ready for a vote.” said Executive Councilor Ray Burton in response to some of these questions which I think came from the Concord Monitor newspaper.
So now the NH House Committee on Ethics has chosen to investigate Rep. Leishman, what do they hope to find? And more to the point what will they find that the Attorney General didn’t find when they investigated this?
The State of New Hampshire is the largest railroad in the state. New Hampshire now owns hundreds of miles of abandoned and operating railroad lines and rights of way across the state. The state does not operate the lines it owns; it grants leases to various operators the Milford-Bennington is one of them, there are others. I’m stating this because in my experience with raillroad operating leases the state saves hundreds if not millions of dollars a year through one word, maintenance. Most if not all of the lease operators like the Milford-Bennington, Conway Scenic, Hobo Railroad, etc. do the required inspection and maintenance on the state owned lines versus the state having to seek outside railroad contractors to do the work. I’ve never seen maintenance listed on any of the state lease contracts. The state owned lines are managed by the NH Department of Transportation, Bureau of Railroads who oversee the leases. I’m thinking and speculating that NH DOT wanted to get a lease signed, they had an experienced lessee in the Milford-Bennington Railroad and they didn’t want to attempt anything new in granting the lease to Pan Am Railways regardless of claims by Pan Am Railways that there could be more revenue to the state. I've never seen any evidence that Pan Am Railways has shown how the state could get more revenue from the Milford-Bennington lease.
So my argument here is that politics had nothing to do with this railroad lease. Maybe the Legislative Ethics Committee will find this out as well.