Should it not go to the highest bidder?

 

  This is an article I found by Kevin Landrigan in the Nashua Telegraph about the recent issues surrounding the Milford-Bennington Railroad and its owner/operator Rep. Peter Leishman. Somehow through this entire issue I don't think the central question has been even answered:

Should this lease go to the highest bidder?

I think the answer to this question is yes it should. The Milford-Bennington Railroad missed the application deadlines and now Pan Am Railways wants to bid and whatever the result the highest bidder should get the contract, period.  What I find bizarre is the statement in the article below from Executive Councilor Ray Burton about being ready to vote and opposing Pan Am on the basis of an oil spill in Ayer, Mass. "They have not been friendly neighbors." Burton said. Even more bizarre I think is a statement from Councilor Pignatelli about the sole customer a concrete company not being willing to work with Pan Am and the statement that they would close and layoff 50 employees. This is bizarre because who does the Milford-Bennington Railroad interchange its cars with.

Pan Am Railways.

During the past year or so I've been closely following including filings before the Surface Transportation Board relative to a corporate entity known as Pan Am Southern. The Pan Am Southern is a merger between Norfolk Southern Corporation which is one of the largest U.S. railroads and Pan Am Railways on certain railroad in New England known as the Patriot Corridor. The merger works like this. Pan Am Railways continues to operate the railroad lines from Ayer, Mass to Mohawk Yard in New York State and the line from East Deerfield, Mass north to White River Jct. Vermont and south to Connecticut while at the same time the ownership of the described lines is transferred to Norfolk Southern. Part of this agreement is that the Norfolk Southern make a substantial capital investment in the lines including installation of continuious welded rail, new ties and signalization systems. As a result:

New England will have better railroad service into the region and it won't cost the taxpayers a dime.

I think better rail service translates into jobs and economic development through lowering costs for shippers and commodity moves via rail. With this said, I'll come back to the original question. The Milford-Bennington Railroad missed the deadline to apply for the lease so shouldn't this lease be competitive and awarded to the highest bidder? I think it is going to be interesting to see what the Attorney General investigates and arrives at. Will it be politically motivated? Will the Governor and Executive Council be ready for a vote then?

If this were my choice which it isn't I'd let the Attorney General finish the investigation then the vote before Governor and Council. Regardless of where the vote falls and which company is awarded the contract, all bids would be published in the meeting minutes. I think this would be fair for the taxpayers which happen to own this railroad line in the first place.

"DURHAM – The Executive Council approved a six-month extension of the Milford-Bennington Railroad lease to allow the attorney general's office to examine allegations a state legislator used political influence to secure a 10-year extension of his operating lease.

The council set aside the 10-year lease recommendation of Transportation Commissioner George Campbell until the investigation is complete.

In his first interview, Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough, and a former Milford legislator, called the claims of Pan Am Railways President David Fink "bizarre."

Fink, who wanted to bid on the railroad business, claimed he could double the revenue Leishman has been sending to the state."The Finks have made quite a stink and made very serious allegations against me and the commissioner," Leishman said. "That whole line of claims is just bizarre and I expect these questions will dispel all those wild charges."

During a telephone interview, Fink said he thought Leishman had the lease contract politically wired and praised the council's action.

"I am astounded. I thought the fix was in. I am delighted," Fink said.

"The only thing I am asking for is that they tell the truth. Let's put it out to bid."

Deputy Attorney General Orville "Bud" Fitch proposed the interim pact after Pan American executive Fink charged that Lieshman used his legislative connections to pressure Campbell to let Leishman keep the railroad he's run since 1987.

Gov. John Lynch endorsed the holdover move.

"I think it's a good opportunity to resolve this and give the attorney general some time," Lynch said. "I'm hopeful there will be no disruption to service, which is important."

All the councilors said it was appropriate for the attorney general to look into the allegations.

But several executive councilors said their own past dealings with Pan Am or Fink would discourage them from approving someone other than Leishman to hold the contract.

"If they had been allowed to bid, I'm told the concrete company would not work with Pan Am. They would close and would lay off 50 employees," said Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua.

Councilor Raymond Burton, R-Woodsville, said he had been willing to give the full lease again to Leishman and condemned the credentials of Pan Am lodging the charges.

"Even if Pan Am was asked to bid, I would have difficulty voting for them," Burton said. "They have not been very friendly neighbors."

Councilors mentioned Pan Am or affiliate companies have been linked to environmental lawsuits and other claims — most recently a $400,000 judgment by jury against Pan Am and other companies over an oil spill at an Ayer, Mass., rail yard.

Fink said his company controls 2,000 miles of track and every railroad entity faces environmental problems.

"In Ayer, we are appealing the amount, but we take responsibility for what happened," Fink said. "We work to never have anything like that take place, but it did happen."

Councilor John Shea, D-Nelson, noted Pan Am pointed out Leishman had not, as his current lease required, sought an extension before a deadline ran out last winter.

Fink claims Campbell asked him to keep his attack confidential for fear Leishman would retaliate against the DOT budget.

"Clearly, there was an oversight and the department did nothing about it long after it was brought to their attention," Shea said. "Why? New Hampshire politics, I guess."

Leishman serves on the House Finance Committee but is not a member of the smaller working group that crafts DOT spending plans.

Burton said it's difficult in other parts of the state to get private individuals like Leishman to risk the liability to keep freight tracks operating.

"My feeling is Mr. Leishman had that contract. We are lucky to have anybody who wants to do this and keep the lines alive. I am ready to vote for this," Burton said.

DOT Commissioner Campbell said he recommended Leishman get the lease again because the only freight customer – Granite State Concrete – had a good working relationship.

Campbell had come to the council meeting at the University of New Hampshire at Durham campus with a detailed timeline of his work on the railroad lease.

But Fitch's interim move short-circuited a full-blown debate on the question.

"May we live in interesting times, and with people like David Fink around, that will always be the case," Campbell said paraphrasing a Chinese proverb.

Leishman has owned and operated the Milford & Bennington Railroad since 1987 on 24 miles of former Boston and Maine track. The company has to cross over three miles of Pan Am track, and these parties have been locked in legal battles over their respective rights for years.

The railroad operates daily trains from a quarry in Bennington to supply aggregate material to the concrete company in Milford."