Maine DEP reviews revised permit for Brunswick train barn

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BRUNSWICK — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing a revised storm water permit application for an Amtrak train layover facility that was previously rejected by the department. 

In an interview Wednesday, Deputy DEP Commissioner Heather Parent said that after regular discussions with staff of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the Department has determined that the permit is likely the only environmental license or approval needed from the state to proceed with the project. 

“As it stands now, it appears as though the storm water permit is the only permit that is currently necessary under the current proposal,” Parent said. “But it is premature to determine that just because we accepted it as complete that the storm water permit will be issued.”

The Department is further reviewing NNRPRA’s formal response to a series of questions about the project posed in August by DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, at the same time the application was rejected.

Many of the issues raised by the department have already been answered through verbal communication with agency, and NNEPRA’s new filing includes back-up documentation, Parent said.

Aho sent the letter in part to determine if NNEPRA had to obtain further licenses or permits from the state for the project, according to Parent.

Staff from nearly all of DEP’s divisions are reviewing NNEPRA’s response and will make individual determinations of whether it satisfies the department’s concerns or if NNEPRA has to get additional approvals.

If not, NNEPRA would be free, at least from the DEP’s perspective, to begin construction, Parent said. 

“If no other questions or issues come to light that determine that more is needed from us, as far as permits are concerned, then yes, they could initiate construction,” she said. 

DEP accepted NNEPRA’s storm water permit application on Oct. 3. It has until Dec. 17 to decide whether to issue the permit. 

“Obviously, we are hopeful it doesn’t take that long,” NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn said, noting that the same application has already been submitted and approved by the department once before. 

The DEP issued a permit for the site last November, but it was voided by a superior court judge, who ruled in July that the DEP had not properly informed abutters about the permit application.

A resubmitted application was rejected by the DEP in August, because important information was either missing or out of place, according to DEP staff.

NNEPRA’s resubmitted application includes the items sought by DEP and provides additional information requested by DEP staff after the new application was first submitted on Sept. 10.

In addition to the application, NNEPRA also delivered a lengthy response to Aho’s questions in a 16-page memo accompanied by more than 400 pages of additional information, including groundwater, soil and air-quality tests conducted in the month since receiving the commissioner’s missive. 

“It’s a thorough response,” Quinn said. “I think we tried to clarify a lot of the misunderstandings and misinformation and provide clarity and back-up documentation.”

In particular, Quinn pointed to the work NNEPRA has done to clear up concerns about the impact on groundwater quality, especially to at least one private drinking water well near the site. 

Tests at the site show that its use as a rail yard had no negative impact on nearby water quality, indicating that future uses would not “result in adverse impacts on water supply wells that may exist in the vicinity of the site,” Quinn wrote in the agency’s response to Aho.

NNEPRA also provided plans on how it intends to control lead and arsenic-contaminated dust at the site during construction, how it intends to store and transport 55-gallon drums of lubricating oil at the facility, and its plans for solid waste and septic pump-outs. 

In response to Aho’s question of how the agency will deal with the possible discharge of diesel fuel or oil while idling, Quinn flatly denied that the locomotives the Amtrak Downeaster uses have that problem. 

“Amtrak environmental has confirmed that P-42 locomotives used in Downeaster service do not discharge fuel when idling,” Quinn stated in her response.  “No evidence of chronic oil discharges from Amtrak P-42 locomotives exists,” she added.

If any spills are discovered, staff will act immediately to clean up the oil, Quinn stated.

For some of the department’s questions, NNEPRA said it would notify the department if there were any relevant changes to its facility or operation plans.

NNEPRA is proposing a the layover facility between Stanhope Street and Church Road to store up to three Downeaster locomotives overnight and perform basic maintenance work. 

The agency claims that the facility will eliminate outside idling of trains in Brunswick and Portland, and will allow extra Downeaster trips between Brunswick and Boston. 

The project has gone anything but smoothly since it was proposed three years ago.

A group of Bouchard Street residents, under the auspices of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, have opposed the project and filed the lawsuit to void the original storm water permit. State political figures, including Gov. Paul LePage, have also weighed in. 

Construction of the facility cannot begin without a permit in place.

“Right now, we’re just in a holding pattern,” Quinn said.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.

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