Recently I got in touch with Executive Councilor Ray Burton to ask him why he continues to support a ten million dollar investment in the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad through northern New Hampshire.
He didn't respond! He didn't respond!
Instead I get a voice mail from Jack Ferns who is the Director of Railroads for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. Initially, he was very interested in my concerns but then after I started discussing issues of substance....well, that was the last I heard from him.
Here are my concerns:
Executive Councilor Ray Burton supports spending ten million dollars on a railroad line through northern New Hampshire. The question is why?
The St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad runs from St. Rosalie, Quebec through Groveton and the Berlin-Gorham areas before heading southeast towards the Maine coast. Opened in 1859 and known as the SLR a railroad line that was once a strategic link between Canada and the ice free Atlantic. But today a capital intensive business that faces a challenging market environment including the economy in Coos County.
"This project is critical for all current and future industry in the North County that could use rail freight services." Burton said. I'm questioning whether this proposed ten million dollar investment can even support this idea. During the past two years the economy in Coos County has been decimated, paper mill closures in Berlin, Groveton and Gorham have thrown over 750 people out of work and killed a major customer and revenue source for the SLR. The SLR is owned by the publicly traded Genesee & Wyoming Industries who claim that a public-private partnership will be a long term asset to Coos County and New Hampshire.
"This project will also directly help attract future rail-served industry to sites along the main line in Coos County, helping us bring new industrial private sector jobs to the area." said Jerry E. Vest who is the Vice President of Governmental Relations for Genessee & Wyoming Industries the parent company of the SLR. According to its 2008 annual report Genesee & Wyoming Industries reported revenues of $608 million, acquired five railroad companies and has an interest in tax credits under the TARP program which was created by the U.S. Congress. When asked where exactly the industries and jobs would be located in Coos County and how much of its own capital they would be contributing to this project, Mr. Vest didn't answer.
So where are the jobs? Why is Councilor Ray Burton supporting this project? Is investing ten million dollars in a railroad line rolling past closed paper mills an effective use of taxpayer capital and good transportation policy? I don't think it is. I think experienced politicians like Councilor Burton are supporting any project or idea that could bring needed capital and resources into a beleaguered Coos County and this is wrong. If the paper mills had remained open then this might be an argument for this project but they didn't. Coos County is sliding downhill and investing ten million dollars isn't going to change this.