BRUNSWICK — A meeting on Monday night between town officials and members of a neighborhood group that opposes construction of a train layover facility angered some who attended, while confusing and disappointing others.
It also raised questions about whether the meeting should have been announced in advance as a public meeting of the Town Council.
Town Manager Gary Brown, Town Council Chairwoman Joanne King and Councilors Debbie Atwood, John Perreault and Benet Pols met with the board of the Brunswick West neighborhood group after Brown requested a meeting with board member Patrick Rael of Bouchard Drive.
“I thought we needed to establish a dialog instead of having a one-sided dialog at council meetings and through the newspaper,” Brown said of his decision to approach Rael, “and it morphed into a meeting with the whole group.”
According to accounts of the meeting from councilors and Brunswick West representatives, Brown addressed the board members, who did not respond to his comments. Town councilors attempted to speak, but were shut down by board member Dan Sullivan. Atwood left the meeting after Sullivan cut her off.
“I felt like I’d been called to the principal’s office,” Atwood said Wednesday about Sullivan’s action. “I left because I have been a staunch ally and have been treated badly and am appalled by how they’re proceeding. By pulling that maneuver, they have lost all credibility.”
King, who has been criticized by Atwood and Brunswick West neighbors for supporting the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s decision to build the layover facility between Stanwood and Church streets, said the meeting was “a strange experience.”
“Usually if the manager is there and four councilors, or any councilors, and if the neighborhood has a problem, they take advantage of the situation to talk to them,” she said.
Sullivan said the councilors had been misinformed if they expected to be able to speak at the meeting.
“The original intent of the board meeting was to honor Gary’s request to come and speak with us and we had no intent or intention on having this be a discussion session,” he said.
Anna Nelson, spokeswoman for the Brunswick West neighborhood group, said the board would approach town officials when they were ready to talk about ways to mitigate the impact of the proposed 60,000-square-foot train layover facility.
“We made it clear to (Wood) that we appreciate their commitment to help us out with the mitigation piece and when we’re ready to discuss it we’ll reach out to them,” she said.
Some councilors who attended thought the meeting was a good first step.
“It was a very brief discussion … and not a lot got accomplished, but at least a dialog got opened up,” Perreault said. “I think something good came of last night just because we were sitting at the table.”
King also said she was glad she attended.
“I went … to show good faith and hope that we could work together,” she said.
But the presence of four town councilors at the meeting, with the intent of discussing town business, raises the question of whether the public should have had prior notice of the meeting.
Under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, advance public notice is required if three or more members of the council will be present for the purpose of discussing town business.
And although the councilors were prevented from speaking, King said they went with the intention of starting a dialog with the neighbors, and Atwood said she had been expecting to be able to speak.
King said it was a meeting of the Brunswick West neighborhood association, not a council meeting.
“We’re not conducting business, it’s not our meeting,” she said.
And Brown declined to comment on what happened because “it wasn’t a public meeting, I generally don’t comment on what I consider to be private meetings until the issue goes public.”
The Forecaster learned about the meeting Tuesday morning from a Brunswick West board member.
Members of the neighborhood group still maintain that NNEPRA has made the wrong decision about the layover facility. They continue to hope that NNEPRA will decide to build the facility elsewhere, especially since construction of the building has been delayed.
“We’re trying to find a way to educate the town, including the councilors … that there are other alternatives that are better than putting it in this one place,” Sullivan said.
But the group is also studying how best to mitigate noise, vibration and other environmental impacts of the building.
“We’re not fools. We know that the possibility it will be in the Brunswick West site is there,” Sullivan said.
But some would like to see the group stop fighting NNEPRA over where the building should go, and start to minimize its impact on the neighborhood.
“Mitigation is the priority,” Atwood said, “‘I would like to see those folks take this tremendous passion and interest and turning to where they could make an impact.”
The neighborhood group had a small victory recently when NNEPRA announced it would expand the number of residents on the layover facility advisory panel to three and add Perreault.