Brunswick train barn construction moving forward, despite appeal

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BRUNSWICK — The citizen’s group opposing a proposed Amtrak layover facility is appealing the rail authority’s storm-water permit.

But the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Amtrak Downeaster, is going to go ahead and start building it anyway.

In an interview Monday, NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn said her team plans to meet with the contractor, Consigli Construction, “in the next week or so.”

That meeting will give them a better sense of a building schedule, Quinn said.

“We’re just going to move forward on this,” she added.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection approved NNEPRA’s storm-water management application on June 16.

The Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, which represents property abutters and neighbors of the proposed facility, filed an appeal with the DEP’s citizen oversight board July 16.

When BWNC submitted their appeal, they also requested that DEP freeze the storm-water permit during the appeal process.

Commissioner Patricia Aho declined that request Aug. 11.

“A stay pending the outcome of both an administrative appeal and potential subsequent judicial appeals could last a year or longer,” Aho said.

BWNC’s 21-page appeal cited numerous “procedural errors and technical deficiencies.”

But Aho wrote that many of the coalition’s arguments for voiding the permit were considered in the DEP review process.

“It can be reasonably inferred that a legal hold on the initiation of construction in this already lengthy licensing process would result in some detriment to the licensee and the general public,” she said.

Attorneys for TrainRiders Northeast, a rail advocacy group that supports the construction of the layover facility, tried to get BWNC’s appeal dismissed on technical grounds. It argued to the Board of Environmental Protection that the appeal should not be heard because the filing was not signed by an attorney.

But BEP Chairman James Parker rejected TrainRiders’ argument, writing in a letter Aug. 18 that, “It has been the Board’s longstanding practice to allow persons who are not attorneys … to appear on behalf of parties in appeal proceedings.”

The BEP is the governor-appointed citizen oversight board of the DEP. All five members were appointed by Gov. Paul LePage, who has publicly spoken against the project. LePage wrote a letter opposing the location of the layover facility to Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Joseph Szabo in March 2014.

BWNC hopes the BEP will reverse Aho’s decision and vacate the storm-water permit.

NNEPRA’s Quinn said she never expected the permitting process to take this long when the project was first proposed in 2011.

But, she said, “we’re a public agency, we’re here to serve the public … the necessity to assure public participation in these types of projects comes with the territory.”

Throughout the process, “we continued to do the work we needed to do, we did the research … and made the improvements necessary to be responsive to concerns that have been raised,” Quinn said.

In all the debate over the storm-water permit, “it’s not so much about the facility as the location of the facility,” she said. “It’s taken a lot of extra time, but it’s how things go sometimes … we are confident this is going make a big improvement to service and the facility itself will not be as impactful as folks fear it may be.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

An Amtrak Downeaster train idling near the site proposed for a Brunswick layover facility on Aug. 25.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.