My personal opinion of Mr. Nicol is a purely subjective matter. I did not intend for them to appear in the column, but I should have gone to greater lengths to make certain they didn't appear in the IDS, and really shouldn't have shared them with a student journalist at all. But they are still personal comments and nothing more.
Mr. Howard's claims that as the Chamber leader he has been "truthful," that he has been "respectful" of others views, and that he has "carefully" chosen words regarding I-69 are claims that relate to critical issues of the public policy discussion on I-69, and as such are far more important to carefully analyze than my remarks about Mr. Nicol. But Mr. Howard's claims are empty. His actions have often been the opposite of truthful, respectful, and carefully worded.
Following are just a few easily verifiable examples. I have hard copies of the documents in which the following statements were made by Mr. Howard and/or members of his I-69 booster groups like Voices for I-69 and the Mid-Continent Highway Coalition. And keep in mind that this is just a short list of many examples.
Mr. Howard's March 2001 Business Network column is a typical and common example that illustrates the fallacy of all three of his high-ground claims of truthfulness, respectfulness, and careful word choice. In the column titled "Goodbye I-69?" Mr. Howard writes about what he says is a real threat of I-69 being moved to Illinois because of the delays caused by study and debate of the issue in Indiana. Voices for I-69 had a full page in Indiana Business magazine that stated, "If I-69 is located in Illinois it will be with Indiana taxpayer funds already in trust."
The Bloomington Chamber is a charter member of Voices. This "if we don't act quickly on I-69 it will go to Illinois" scare tactic was aggressively used by Mr. Howard for several months but was dropped after the Indy Star and the H-T reported that Gene Cleckley of the Federal Highway Administration "dismissed that idea" when asked by a reporter about it. Cleckley is further quoted in the Indy Star and H-T as responding "I don't see how that could be..." and "Where did they get that notion." We're still wondering.
In the March 2001 column Mr. Howard writes, "Opponents have vigorously opposed any 'new-terrain' route, conjuring images of displaced Amish, split farms, and environmental damage. This is dishonest manipulation of the facts. All routes being studied follow or parallel existing roads; each will incorporate some 'new terrain.'"
Mr. Howard is the one dishonestly manipulating things here. As a matter of fact, he violates all three of his claims of being truthful, using carefully chosen words, and being respectful. Let me demonstrate.
I-69 Route 3C, after it takes off of Ind. 37 southwest of Bloomington, runs for approximately 92 miles over fields, farms, and forests. After leaving 37 it does not use any existing roadbeds, including where it roughly parallels Ind. 57. This has been public knowledge since 1990 when the route was first identified by INDOT.
By contrast, after using existing I-70 from Indy to Terre Haute, the I-70/US 41 route would then use the new 641 bypass currently under construction around Terre Haute (a project independent of I-69). The remainder of the US 41 route would use the existing US 41 road right-of-way except for some bypasses around small communities (a limited access bypass already exists around Vincennes). New terrain requirements of US 41 are no different than similar requirements needed for upgrading SR 37 from Indy to Bloomington.
I-69 opponents have never referred to the upgraded SR 37 portion of route 3C as new terrain, however Mr. Howard distorts the truth by suggesting the US 41 upgrade is comparable to other routes in terms of new terrain. The INDOT EIS states in its cost analysis of the various routes that in terms of operation and maintenance costs the I-70/US 41 route "is in a class by itself" because it will be built primarily using existing 4-lane roadway for its entire length.
Furthermore, it is neither truthful nor respectful to I-69 opponents for Mr. Howard to characterize the purely factual impacts of displaced Amish, split farms, and environmental damage as "dishonest manipulation of the facts" by opponents. The Amish in Daviess County will have their community and way of life dramatically disrupted and impacted by I-69 3C. They went so far as to petition the Governor — an extremely unusual and dramatic action for the Amish who normally shun such direct involvement in secular government even when it does affect them — in asking that he not build a super-highway dividing them. How is highlighting this a dishonest manipulation of the facts?
Same goes for split farms. 3C splits many farms, some of them in the same families for generations, and the farmers are intense opponents of I-69 (and not just the ones whose farms will be split). Some southwest counties affected have Farm Bureau memberships that have voted over 90% opposed to I-69. Again, how is this a dishonest manipulation of anything?
On the environmental damage issues, federal agencies like the US Fish and Wildlife Service and EPA, whose job it is to review and compare environmental impacts, conclude in the studies that negative environmental impacts of I-69 are significant and that they are far lower for the I-70/US41 route than the other routes.
Howard's column also says, "Not much has been accomplished (in Indiana) except....enabling self-serving opponents to gain strength." You call that respectful to opponents? There's more. How about where he writes about his concern of not getting I-69, "I worry. If you care about the future of the region and your kids, so should you." What happened to carefully chosen words and respect for differing views? I am an I-69 opponent and care deeply about my region and my children.
In this same column, regarding Indiana's I-69 progress relative to other states along the corridor, Howard writes, "Indiana has lost its early lead" and "Increasingly Indiana is being viewed as a quirky, ill-led impediment to progress." Two months later, the Indy Star contained an article headlined "Indiana is Miles Ahead on I-69," in which the Federal Highway official overseeing the project in 8 states agrees with the headline. Furthermore, it is pointed out that the reason some states like Kentucky are having less controversy is because they have made the decision to use existing 4-lane highway upgrades for their entire I-69 sections, even though they are not so called "direct routes" that would be achieved by using new-terrain.
There is a lot more just in this one article, but I believe I've made my case.
Meanwhile the Bloomington Chamber's Paul Tedesco was touring the region making the same false claims and assertions. A Washington Times Herald article from March 2001 says that Mr. Tedesco was in town and "he warned that Illinois was lurking in the background, positioning itself to take the corridor to connect Mexico." And later in that article Tedesco is reported as saying that, "The new terrain route was a misnomer as there is no such thing. All the proposed routes incorporate elements of new terrain, but follow existing routes."
More recently, just last fall, Mr.Tedesco of the Bloomington Chamber was in Greene County telling property owners that INDOT would be paying them 125% of the appraised value when purchasing their land for I-69. This was untrue and caused some serious confusion.
Very recently Mr. Howard told the H-T, in response to a question about Bloomington now having a mayor that doesn't support I-69, that it was too bad that we don't have a mayor that "understands" the importance of I-69 to the community. In my view, that is not respectful. When someone disagrees with you it doesn't just mean that they don't "understand."
A few years ago Mr. Howard was sent a letter by the leadership of the BEDC concerned about comments he made at a BEDC meeting that were dismissive of and insulting to people in our community who oppose I-69.
Many of you should remember when a member of the Voices for I-69 stated, in the newspaper and on the record, that all of those opposed to I-69 were racists and bigots who just didn't want Mexicans coming here. Mr. Howard didn't cry incivility then. He seldom does when it is someone who is in agreement with him. It isn't so much that Mr. Howard objects to incivility, as he is often guilty of incivility himself. What he objects to is disagreement with his positions.
A year or two ago I recall the irony of A. John Rose (representing the Chamber) accusing certain local elected officials (i.e. Andy Ruff) of being dishonest about information given to the public on I-69. I challenge anyone to document anything I have ever said regarding I-69 that was false.
I have a packet of materials given out by Mr. Howard at a BEDC meeting early in the I-69 debate, with a page that is titled "Statistics on the Economic Impact of the I-69 Evansville to Indianapolis Highway." One statistic reads - "Accident Reduction — 2,386 fewer accidents/year (946 persons fatally injured)(1,440 property damage)."
Well that sure looks like a dramatic life-saving investment. The problem is that it doesn't take much in the way of effort to check up and see that 946 is about what Indiana averages annually in traffic fatalities in the entire state. So, according to this piece of Chamber-distributed literature, I-69 will eliminate virtually all traffic fatalities in the state. Even if it was an honest mistake it wouldn't have taken much in the way of "care" to have avoided such an obvious error. And in the interest of "truthfulness" and "respect," after I pointed out the error, a corrective statement should have been issued by the Chamber.
In April 1999, Jim Newland of the The Mid-Continent Highway Coalition and Voices for I-69 appeared before the Bloomington City Council and said "Lee Hamilton wanted to be here tonight to speak to you, but he couldn't make it because of another commitment, so he asked me to come here tonight in his place...to represent him and deliver the message to you that he believes it is essential that this highway come through Bloomington..."
It seemed strange to me that Lee Hamilton would send a lifetime highway construction industry lobbyist to represent him at a meeting of the Council, so I called Lee Hamilton. I spoke with him on the phone and described what had happened. He asked me to send him a videotape of the meeting, and I did. Mr. Hamilton told me that he absolutely did not send James Newland to that meeting to speak for him and represent him, and that he would never have sent a lobbyist like that to speak for him on such an issue.
In a guest column in the H-T that I wrote a few years ago I-69 opponents challenged I-69 supporters to debate and address misinformation on this issue. I wrote that both sides owed the public a truly open public debate where each side had ample opportunity to challenge and refute the other's claims face to face, because the public had only heard the claims of misinformation dissemination being leveled at each other. The column goes on to say, "The focus on "civility" as it relates to the local I-69 discussion is simply a diversionary tactic used by highway supporters. They want attention diverted away from arguments on the critical, relevant issues because they'll lose the debate on these issues."
Mr. Howard is still playing the civility diversionary tactic, and I still say it is primarily because his arguments do not hold up. He gleefully forwards around my personal mistake in the IDS story as if it really tells the story. Then he talks about the need to "plan" for the benefits, and have civil community dialogue about the ways we can "maximize the benefits from I-69 to our community, region, and state."
In his standard operating procedure, Mr. Howard is up for a "dialogue," but a dialogue that he defines and that conforms to his view. And if you disagree with him you, like Mayor Kruzan, just don't "understand." Mr. Howard's approach ignores the fact that there are many, many people in this community that want to dialogue, not about accepting I-69, but about the incompatibility of this project with our community goals, needs, and vision. This is a dialogue that Mr. Howard has no interest in engaging in.
Finally, I'll share just one example of my experiences with Mr. Nicol that has shaped my opinion of him. At an I-69 public meeting a few years ago in Washington, Indiana, a citizen stepped to the microphone and proceeded to explain to a room packed with citizens that I-69 already had the full cost allocated to construction in Indiana by special federal money outside of our annual federal gas tax allocation and that therefore building I-69 would not impact other projects in the state. He said that if we didn't build it we were throwing money away to another state.
This was false. I felt that someone from INDOT should at least step up after that speaker was finished and politely make the correction and explain the funding situation - that special federal money was not in place, and that it was hard to know how much would be available and when in terms of special federal funds, and rather as Senator Lugar has stated, "The bulk of the money required for building the I-69 Southwest Indiana Highway will likely come from Indiana's annual formula allocation share of the federal gas tax."
Mr. Nicol was standing nearby, so I approached him and asked that he please have someone from INDOT make a corrective statement because otherwise we were looking at a room full of citizens who would be walking out of the meeting at the end of the night with a significant misunderstanding. He said no, he wouldn't do that. When I told him I believed he had a responsibility to do it and that failure to make the correction when he had the opportunity was little better than spreading the misinformation himself, he instead signaled 2 nearby police officers who immediately came over and suggested that I leave.
Mr. Nicol repeatedly has refused to honestly inform the public on I-69. Very recently he told a Bloomington Chamber of Commerce group that Indiana had no choice and was required by the federal government to build I-69. Again this is not true.
Mr. Howard strongly approves of Mr. Nicol's job performance on I-69 because they share the same view and employ similar tactics. They both disregard and disrespect the public's involvement and participation in the decision-making process when it conflicts with their view and interests. They have both said in the past that we are wasting time debating and studying the issue and that we should just get started building it. And in their zeal to get the particular I-69 they want, they have been guilty of spreading critical misinformation that has warped beyond repair the public discussion of a huge public policy decision that will dramatically and directly impact thousands of people lives right now and into the future.
In the meantime I apologize for my careless, silly, unproductive name-calling and will be wiser in the future. As I said, I didn't intend for it to go public.
Andy Ruff is a Bloomington City Council member at-large.