Brunswick council weighs position on Amtrak train barn

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BRUNSWICK — A neighborhood group has asked the Town Council to join it and Gov. Paul LePage in asking the federal government for a “significant and thorough review” of a proposed Amtrak train layover facility.

Members of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition asked the council Monday night to send a letter to the federal government seeking a more comprehensive study of the project’s impact on their neighborhood.

Councilors said they won’t make a decision until April 7.

They also tabled proposed changes to mooring rules and discussed a facilities report containing potential new costs for the town.

In an undated letter released before Monday’s meeting, LePage asked the Federal Railroad Administration for a “significant and thorough review”of the location of the layover facility proposed by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority for the Amtrak Downeaster.

The $12 million train barn would be built on a rail yard between Church and Stanwood streets, near a commercial area on Pleasant Street and a neighborhood based on and around Bouchard Drive.

The 60,000-square-foot building would allow trains to idle during the day and power down overnight, instead of returning to Portland late at night and having to travel back to Brunswick early the next day to pick up more southbound passengers.

The Federal Railroad Administration has been reviewing NNEPRA’s environmental assessment of the facility and its proposed location since it was submitted last fall. The environmental assessment has found that the facility would have no adverse impact on the neighborhood.

The FRA may issue a finding at any time, spokesman Kevin Thompson said on Monday. He said while the official public comment period has been closed since last fall, the FRA still welcomes input.

If the FRA determines a longer look is required, the federal agency would have to conduct a comprehensive study of the project’s environmental impacts, called an environmental impact statement. It would likely delay the project.

LePage’s letter asks the FRA to produce an environmental impact statement, citing concerns that NNEPRA hasn’t fully addressed all of the project’s impact on the abutting neighborhood and that there are “unreconciled differences” between environmental and socio-economic analyses done by NNEPRA and the neighborhood group.

LePage’s letter also questions the proposed train facility’s location, saying the Brunswick West site “has questionable economic benefit potential” and that two other sites could have “positive economic potential” for Brunswick Landing.

Chris Casey, a Bouchard Drive resident, read LePage’s letter to councilors Monday night and asked them to support the neighborhood group’s stance.

“All we’re asking is for a fair shot at this,” he said. “We’re not asking anybody to take sides. We’re simply asking for folks to say we want a fair, independent review before moving forward.”

Jeff Reynolds, who also lives near the Church-Stanwood site on Redwood Lane, said he supports the proposed train facility’s location, citing the potential economic development benefits for the region. He said the FRA shouldn’t consider an environmental impact statement based on political pressure.

“This letter you will be asked to endorse is just the first step in an effort to kill all railroad development on this site,” he said. “… If the BWNC can tie Brunswick, the Mid-Coast, the state of Maine, NNEPRA and Amtrak into knots over a big shed where everyone’s favorite trains will be parked inside and their engines turned off, imagine what they’d do if a freight transfer facility or switching yard are proposed.”

NNEPRA has maintained that it has done its due diligence with the project in a transparent manner that involved public input.

Other business

Later on Monday, councilors tabled proposed changes to the town’s mooring rules after hearing from a few concerned residents who want to see more deliberation on the issue before any changes are made.

The council may revisit the proposed changes sometime in April.

Councilors also briefly discussed a report from January that found several issues with the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems for Emerson Fire Station on Bath Road. It estimates improvements could cost up to $290,000.

The report by Wright-Pierce was commissioned by the town last year after the 8-year-old fire station had experienced several problems with its HVAC systems over the past few years.

“Last winter … we actually had a couple sections of the building freeze up,” Fire Chief Ken Brillant said on Monday. “… Our decontamination room, that was completely frozen solid, (and) we had a lack of heat in the apparatus base.”

“We also had some issues during the summer where we had to run a dehumidifier during hot weather,” he continued, adding that employees had to empty the dehumidifier a couple times a day because of the humidity build-up.

While the issues haven’t had an impact on the fire stations’s ability to respond to emergencies, Brillant said the station has been without hot water at times and sometimes reaches below 50 degrees in room temperature.

Mike Ouellet of Ouellet Associates, the contractor that built the station in 2006, said in a March 21 letter to interim Town Manager John Eldridge that he was surprised to see such a report, “especially when we have never been contacted about the issues highlighted in this report” since the project was completed.

However, he said, his company is committed “at our expense to re-commission the HVAC system to determine if the equipment and building controls are operating as designed.” It’s not clear how much of the estimated $290,000 that would cover.

“I am astounded and extremely discouraged that this has only come to light just very recently,” Councilor Jane Millett said. “I think it really highlights the issue that we need a process going forward having to do with buildings and accepting buildings from contractors and actually making the final payment.”

Beth Brogan of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this story. Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.