Brunswick council, rail officials to discuss complaints about trains

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BRUNSWICK — Town councilors will meet with rail officials Oct. 30 to try to find ways to mitigate some residents’ concerns about train noise and exhaust fumes.

The long-awaited meeting follows almost a year’s worth of complaints since a controversial Amtrak Downeaster layover barn was built last November.

“I’m hoping we can reach some kind of consensus (on a solution),” Chairwoman Alison Harris at a meeting Monday, when the council also took care of other town business, including reducing the fee for parking from $5 to $2 at the newly metered Union Street lot.

The council also appropriated $100,000 from the undesignated fund balance to finance a planning study for the construction of a new central fire station. Some of that money will pay for appraisals of land for a possible location.

Councilors also heard a report from the committee tasked with making recommendations on how the town should regulate the retail sale of marijuana, which is advising against allowing social clubs.

The Oct. 30 meeting, scheduled from 7-9 p.m., has two stated objectives, according to the online agenda: identify existing regulations and practice that involve train horns, bells, and whistles at crossings; and find ways to reduce that noise through the implementation of quiet zones or other means.

There will be no public comment allowed, according to Town Manager Eldridge, who has instead, for the sake of the meeting’s efficiency, compiled a multi-page list of questions and concerns that summarize noise, fumes, and disruption-related issues relayed by residents of the Bouchard Drive-Stanwood Street neighborhood.

The meeting’s format will first give Eldridge a chance to present those concerns, after which rail officials will provide their own presentation on the safety regulations and operational practices that govern crossings and the rail yard.

Councilors will then have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss ways to reduce noise.

“I absolutely expect to learn a lot from the rail officials,” Harris said Monday, explaining that while the town has communicated remotely with officials at the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, councilors still don’t understand the extent of authority they have to regulate noise.

In particular, she said, the council wants to know whether Brunswick qualifies for quiet zones at crossings – and what local costs might be associated with the construction of compensatory safety measures – and whether options exist at all to control noise and fumes within the rail yard.

Representatives from NNEPRA, Amtrak, the Federal Rail Administration, Pan Am Railways, and a company that runs freight trains through the area will be present, Harris said.

Some councilors suggested the meeting is long overdue, given the history of complaints. Councilors publicly addressed the issues as far back as January, although it wasn’t until September that a face-to-face meeting was sought.

Many of the invited rail officials have jobs with demanding schedules, Harris said Monday, and the end of the month was the soonest a meeting could be scheduled.

Other business

Councilors voted to temporarily reduce the long-term parking fee at Union Street, following reports that $5 daily fee was dissuading commuters from using the Metro Breez bus, which only costs $3 to ride.

Councilors said Monday they didn’t anticipate the impact the charge would have on bus ridership. The Breez extended its service to Brunswick just a few weeks after the vote to meter the lot.

The reduction will last six months, until councilors revisit the issue.

The recommendation to ban marijuana social clubs was one of the few areas of consensus the marijuana task force has reached, Police Cmdr. Mark Waltz said Monday.

That direction sat well with Councilors, unlike the group’s suggestion that cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities only be allowed “out of eyesight” in the town’s few industrial zones off Bath Road and U.S. Route 1.

While some councilors like that idea, some, like Councilor Kathy Wilson, felt it perpetuated a stigma for what is now a legal substance in Maine.

The same “out-of-eyesight” suggestion would likely be the recommended for retail stores, Waltz said, although the committee is split on whether they should be, and is awaiting direction expected next week from the Legislature.

In the meantime, councilors unanimously extended for another six months a local moratorium on all retail sales made possible by the voter-approved legalization of marijuana last November.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Brunswick Town Hall

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.