Amtrak discussion reveals rift among Brunswick residents

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BRUNSWICK — Some residents’ patience with the Brunswick West neighborhood group is apparently wearing thin.

Seven people at the Feb. 6 Town Council meeting spoke against the group’s request that the council write a letter to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority asking the agency to have a proposed Amtrak Downeaster layover facility comply with state noise standards.

NNEPRA is only required to follow federal standards, which are not as strict as the state’s rules.

Until now, few residents have publicly opposed Brunswick West’s efforts to change the location of the proposed facility and better mitigate the impact of noise and vibration on nearby homes if the facility is built between Stanwood Street and Church Road.

But on Monday, citizens like Rob Jarrett said they have had enough.

“It should be over,” he said of the group’s effort. “I think the train will help to save the economic life of this town.”

He compared the Brunswick West experience to his own when Parkview Hospital announced it wanted to build a helicopter pad. In the beginning he and his neighbors opposed the project over noise concerns, he said, but now “we have accepted that fact and we don’t wake up in the middle of the night when a helicopter comes in.”

Emily Boochever told of her experience living next to Brunswick Naval Air Station, and noted “no one I’ve ever heard of tried to form a coalition to move the Navy base.”

She also questioned the extent of support for Brunswick West’s campaign: “Are we as a community going to let one group delay construction of the layover facility for months with dire predictions about the noise, vibration and pollution?”

Claudia Knox said the letter requested by the group “makes demands of NNEPRA that are unreasonable and likely impossible for NNEPRA to agree to.”

“Why should Brunswick be the only community along the Downeaster line to ask that a different standard of noise and vibration apply?” she asked.

Members of Brunswick West were on hand to respond.

Dan Sullivan said the group is focusing its efforts on mitigating the impacts of the layover facility, not fighting the site choice.

And Charles Wallace, an engineer who has done his own noise and vibration studies and brought a sound-measuring device to the council meeting, said the neighbors will be adversely affected even if NNEPRA uses state noise standards.

After listening to all the comments, the council called on Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA’s executive director, to respond.

She emphasized how building the layover facility in Brunswick would allow NNEPRA to expand the Downeaster schedule. She also said NNEPRA is taking time to study the noise standards Brunswick West wants employed.

“We’re trying to determine what’s applicable and what that means and I don’t have an answer yet because they’re very complex,” she said.

Councilors were divided on whether to draft the letter on behalf of the neighborhood group. Councilors John Perreault, Benet Pols, Joanne King and Sarah Brayman spoke in favor, arguing it would not derail the process of Amtrak coming to Brunswick and would be a gesture of support to the neighbors.

But Councilors Suzan Wilson, Margo Knight, Gerald Favreau, Ben Tucker and David Watson opposed the letter, arguing the town had no jurisdiction over which noise standards NNEPRA should follow. They also said it would put the town in an awkward position.

The council ultimately decided to table the item until there is more information about the noise standards.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.