Opponents dominate hearing on Brunswick train layover facility
BRUNSWICK — Opponents of a proposed train layover facility came out in force Thursday night for a public hearing on the project's environmental impact.
A majority of the 26 speakers at the town's meeting room at Brunswick Station challenged an environmental assessment that shows the Amtrak Downeaster depot will not adversely impact an abutting neighborhood.
They also urged rail officials to conduct a more comprehensive environmental analysis that would delay the project, and consider alternative sites to the proposed rail yard area between Church and Stanwood streets.
But the project also had some vocal proponents, including Wayne Davis, who is a longtime advocate of the train service, Debora King of the Brunswick Downtown Association, and Town Councilor Margo Knight.
"In my opinion, I think (the Downeaster's operator) has done due diligence in finding the best space available (for the facility)," Knight said, "and also in doing as much mitigation as possible."
Before the public hearing began, Patricia Quinn, executive director of Downeaster operator the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, took the more than 60 people in attendance through the bullet points of why the facility is needed.
"The purpose is to construct an indoor layover facility where we can store and provide routine servicing for Amtrak Downeaster train sets," Quinn said. "The facility will allow train equipment to power down inside during the middle of the day. It will reduce fuel consumption, noise, emissions and so forth associated with trains which currently idle outside during the day."
The facility will also eliminate the need for the trains to take late-night and early morning trips between Portland and Brunswick, Quinn added.
At the center of Thursday's public hearing was NNEPRA's draft environmental assessment. The document will allow the Federal Railroad Authority to determine if extra analysis of the project's potential impact is needed.
Most of the speakers, many of whom are associated with the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, asked the two agencies to take the extra step and consider alternative sites.
"It's important to know that by law the environmental assessment must adequately address 23 specific items such as air quality, water quality, and socioeconomic impacts," said Chris Casey, of Bouchard Drive, a member of the neighborhood group. "By any proof of measure, the environmental assessment fails to meet those standards."
Jeff Reynolds, who also lives near the Church-Stanwood site on Redwood Lane, saw things differently.
"The environmental assessment shows conclusively, even repeatedly, that the effects – environmental and other – fall well within public guidelines," he said.
As part of a larger 30-day public comment process, the comments made Thursday night were entered into NNEPRA' and FRA's records. The process is required by the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act because the project is utilizing federal funds.
NNEPRA is still accepting public comment by email to Marina@nnepra.com or by postal mail to Marina Douglass, NNEPRA, 75 West Commercial St., Suite 104, Portland, ME 04101.
After the public comment period ends on Oct. 13, NNEPRA and FRA will review and provide responses to "substantive comments." They will be included in the final draft of the environmental assessment, according to the public hearing moderator, Erich Thalheimer of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.
If the FRA determines additional analysis is required, it could delay the construction of the train facility and require Downeaster trains to continue to idle up to five hours a day.
The environmental assessment serves to "provide sufficient evidence and analysis" to determine if additional investigation on the project's environmental impact is necessary, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's website.
The assessment also serves to help authorities like NNEPRA comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, a law passed in 1969 that seeks to balance "the desire for a sustainable environment" with "other essential needs of present and future generations of Americans."