Sen. Norm Coleman, R–Minn., has distanced himself from the North American Super-Corridor Coalition Inc. and from the claims NASCO makes that the I-35 NAFTA Superhighway is an “Internet conspiracy theory,” following the recent release of NASCO internal e-mails under the Minnesota Data Practices Act that reveal the organization has taken steps to recruit Coleman’s support.
Richard Arnebeck, a division director at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, wrote an e-mail Jan. 31, 2007, to Brad Larsen of MNDOT’s Office of Government Relations in which Arnebeck asserted that Coleman could be influenced to support NASCO by Minnesota businessman Bob Koens, a real estate developer who lives on Lake Minnetonka.
Arnebeck wrote that Koens was a particularly good advance man to approach Coleman because Koens “has a development company currently working on a project in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico.”
According to the NASCO website, the I-35 super corridor is projected to connect to L?zaro C?rdenas and Manzanillo, two Mexican ports on the Pacific Ocean.
“Apparently, Bob has a lot of influential friends and contacts,” Arnebeck wrote. “Bob’s always looking out for NASCO and putting in a plug where he can.”
Arnebeck commented that he sent Koens information about NASCO for Koens to give to Coleman.
“The senator responded that he’d heard about our organization and this giant superhighway, loss of American jobs, basically the crazy conspiracy theories that are swilling around right now,” Arnebeck’s memo informed his MNDOT colleagues. “Bob gave a brief synopsis of all the craziness and how it’s untrue.”
According to Arnebeck’s report, “The senator was not opposed to becoming involved or being supportive, he just wanted more facts on NASCO, benefits for Minnesota and the U.S. in general, etc.”
Coleman’s office yesterday was careful to disagree, distancing Coleman from NASCO and from the claims made by Koens.
Yesterday, LeRoy Coleman, press secretary for the senator, wrote me an e-mail in which he explained, “Senator Coleman’s office is aware that MNDOT has joined NASCO on a two-year trial basis, but has had no involvement in the relationship between MNDOT and NASCO, nor made any effort to advance their project.”
“Senator Coleman has also been approached by supporters of NASCO, but has no position on the project,” LeRoy Coleman explained.
In a return e-mail, I asked LeRoy Coleman if the senator agreed with the NASCO comment that criticisms of NASCO and of NAFTA superhighways represent “Internet conspiracy theories,” as Arnebeck’s e-mail would suggest.
“Senator Coleman respects and takes into account the views of those who have concerns about a project of this size,” LeRoy Coleman responded. “However, at this time he does not have a position on the subject.”
Koens also has a history as a former assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of Minnesota.
The internal e-mails reveal that NASCO had courted MNDOT for months to join the trade association, offering MNDOT the opportunity to elect two members to the NASCO board if MNDOT would agree to become a NASCO member.
In a March 7, 2006, email, Robert Gale, a MNDOT planner expressed doubts that joining NASCO was a wise move.
“I do not see that MNDOT has much, if anything, to gain by giving these people $50,000 or $25,000, or anything for that matter,” Gale wrote.
Gale expressed concern that truck volume on the I-35 corridor was not Minnesota’s principal concern, largely because the distances from Mexico suggested that most Chinese containers shipped from Manzanillo and L?zaro C?rdenas would most likely reach the state by rail.
NASCO has promoted the fact mega-container ships from the Far East and China can unload containers cost-effectively using non-union labor in these Mexican ports rather than relying upon longshoremen in West Coast ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Mexican trucks and Mexican trains would transport the containers to the I-35 border crossing at Laredo, Texas, again reducing transportation costs involved in bringing Chinese containers into the heart of the United States by U.S. union railroad workers or by the more expensive U.S. truckers.
“Nor have we received input from our customers looking for help with assessing the Mexican market via truck/highway,” Gale stressed in the e-mail. “I would say we should save the state’s money for more worthwhile endeavors than this group [NASCO] has to offer.”
On Dec. 19, 2006, Tiffany Melvin, NASCO executive director, wrote Arnebeck a letter thanking him for his $15,000 “membership contribution” upon joining NASCO.
NASCO had originally asked for $50,000 as a fee for MNDOT to join the organization.
The newly released documents reveal a MNDOT-NASCO public relations campaign of denial aimed at discrediting criticism of a NAFTA superhighway.
A July 19, 2006, e-mail written by John Bray, a MNDOT official, discusses a conversation in which a news director for Wisconsin Public Radio had a student reporter confront him with an article I had written on the I-35 corridor as a NAFTA superhighway.
“I think that if you read the above webpage, written by a Mr. Jerome R. Corsi,” Bray wrote, “you will se how far out of the realm of reality this thing is.”
Bray continued: “To my knowledge, the NASCO organization is not proposing a ‘NAFTA superhighway’ as Mr. Corsi seems to suggest.”
NASCO is currently completed their annual 2007 Conference, this year entitled “Moving North America Forward,” in Ft. Worth, Texas, scheduled from May 30 to June 1.
NASCO conference logo
According to NASCO’s website, the organization anticipated “more than 350 transportation, logistics and economic development specialists” to attend “from across Mexico, the United States and Canada.”
Each registrant was expected to pay NASCO a $325 registration fee ($375 for late registration), plus the cost of their transportation, hotel lodging and meals.
WND has previously displayed the original homepage of NASCO, which opened with a map highlighting the I-35 corridor from Mexico to Canada, arguing the trade group and its members were actively promoting a NAFTA superhighway.
The Texas Legislature recently voted a bill calling for a two-year moratorium in Trans-Texas Corridor construction. In response, the legal counsel for the Federal Highway Administration sent Texas a letter threatening to cut off federal highway funds.
Now, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has vetoed the moratorium legislation and experienced watchers of the Texas Legislature are doubtful the veto will be over-ridden.
WND has also reported efforts are under way by state government officials, transportation planners and investment bankers to promote the extension of the Trans-Texas Corridor into Oklahoma.
Jeffrey N. Shane, undersecretary of transportation, was ripped by Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., after Shane maintained under oath to a House subcommittee that NAFTA superhighways were “an urban legend.”
The Minnesota Data Practices Act documents were obtained by Nathan M. Hansen, whose blog has been critical of NASCO and its continental “supercorridor” aspirations.
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