Brunswick council stays out of Amtrak depot dispute

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BRUNSWICK — A divided Town Council on Monday declined to intervene on behalf of residents opposed to construction of a proposed Amtrak Downeaster layover facility in their neighborhood.

The 5-4 decision followed an approximately 90-minute discussion that saw several residents express concern about the impact of noise and vibration on nearby homes from such the facility, proposed for the area between Stanwood Street and Church Road.

Residents on Monday wanted councilors to write to Martin Eisenstein, chairman of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority,  with two requests:

• That all layover facility operations, both outside and inside the building, conform to Maine Department of Environmental Protection regulations on vibration and noise.

NNEPRA is only required to adhere to federal standards, which are less strict than than those of the state.

• And that NNEPRA bring an Amtrak train to Brunswick for observation and testing during the winter between 2:30 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“Winter Downeaster activity will have a different impact on surrounding neighbors than other seasons of the year,” the proposed letter stated. “The hours are important since this will simulate actual ‘future scheduled’ arrival and departure of a Downeaster” to the facility.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of NNEPRA, addressed questions that had been asked of her at the council’s previous meeting, and defended the location selected for the facility.

“We do have a commitment to provide rail service to Freeport and Brunswick, and that will happen this year, regardless of whether a layover is built in Brunswick or not,” Quinn said.

But she noted that “the frequency of service is related to the location of the layover, and the public cost of the service is also related to the layover location. A Brunswick layover will enable us to maximize Downeaster service to Freeport and Brunswick, and operate it most efficiently.”

Quinn pointed out that the Brunswick rail yard has operated since the 1860s.

“In 1955, Brunswick adopted its very first zoning ordinance, which deemed that entire Brunswick West area, on both the north side and the south side of the tracks, to be industrial, and no residential construction was allowed until at least 1962,” she said.

Quinn noted that the number of times Downeaster trains will pass Stanwood and Union streets each day will be based on frequency of service and will not be impacted by the layover facility location.

The indoor facility would also “virtually eliminate” the need for the trains to idle outside, she said.

“Train movements in and out of the building will not create severe impacts,” Quinn stated, adding that yard rules will be written to mitigate noise from the trains, and that an analysis has determined noise generated by the facility will be within DEP and Brunswick night noise requirements.

Councilor Suzan Wilson, who made the motion to not send the letter, noted that with the additional information the council heard Monday, “there’s more impetus than ever to have (an) advisory committee continue its work, and that’s the appropriate venue for these issues to be discussed.”

She said the council should focus on issues it can control, like being willing to apply for a railroad quiet zone.

Resident Mary Lou Zeeman, who lives near the proposed facility site, said she supports extension of Downeaster service to Brunswick. But she argued that the noise and vibration studies to which Quinn referred do not reflect noise and vibration generated outside the building.

“That is why the request to bring a train here is important,” she said, to “find out whether it is as frightening, or as peaceful, as we all wonder.”

Councilors David Watson, Joanne King, Gerald Favreau, Margo Knight and Wilson were against sending the letter; Councilors Ben Tucker, Sarah Brayman, Benet Pols and Perreault voted to send it.

Following failure of the motion to send the letter, Perreault proposed another motion, to send a letter with only the request for a train to do noise and vibration testing. That motion also failed, 5-4.

Tucker, Perreault, Brayman and Pols supported it, while Watson, Wilson, King, Favreau and Knight were opposed.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.