Judge voids permit for Amtrak layover facility in Brunswick
BRUNSWICK — Construction of an Amtrak passenger train layover facility is being put on hold after a superior court judge last week voided a storm water permit issued for the project.
The July 2 ruling by Justice Joyce Wheeler found that the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority violated Maine Department of Environmental Protection rules by failing to notify abutters about its permit application.
NNEPRA will be given another opportunity to apply for a storm water permit, which usually takes 60 days to review and approve, DEP representative Jessamine Logan said. Abutters will have an opportunity for public comment during that time.
A group of residents opposed to the layover facility took the ruling as a victory in their years-long struggle with NNEPRA.
"It's a battle, and we're overjoyed the state court recognized this was an improper procedure and did not conform to environmental laws, but it is part of a larger war," Bob Morrison, chairman of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, said Wednesday morning.
"Obviously, it's not what we wanted to see," NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn said.
"We haven't had a chance to connect with DEP or to establish what the next steps will be," Quinn added. "Our intent is to move forward with the project, once we have a chance to connect with them and determine what the next steps are, that's what we'll do."
NNEPRA plans to build a 60,000-square-foot maintenance facility between Church Road and Stanwood Street to house up to three Downeaster trains for overnight maintenance.
A storm water permit is required for construction.
The Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition sued Maine DEP last year, arguing its members are abutters to the project, but never received notification of NNEPRA's permit application.
In their response to the suit, NNEPRA and DEP claimed the petitioners were not considered abutters because their property is separated from the site by a railroad, which, it argued, was neither a public nor private right of way.
Abutters, according to DEP rules, include those who are within a mile of the project, including properties across a public or private way.
The argument was dismissed by Wheeler, who agreed with petitioners that a railroad is considered a public way under the DEP rules.
"MDEP reads a level of sophistication into a definition that, on its face, is lacking," Wheeler wrote. "Nothing in the definition or the context of the rules suggests that the definition was drafted to exclude certain rights of way."
The DEP does not intend to appeal the ruling, Logan said.
In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Morrison said BWNC was pleased but not surprised by the court's ruling.
"We've said for a long time that NNEPRA is ignoring the concerns of the residents of our neighborhood where this giant industrial garage is going to be built," he said. "NNEPRA ignored basic state laws requiring it to notify affected residents because they consider us a nuisance. They'd rather not listen to us. And when we objected, they continued to defend their position with bogus arguments that the court rejected outright."
In response, Quinn said NNEPRA has consistently followed regulations that apply to it.
"We followed the guidelines of the DEP when we submitted the storm water permit," she said. "If it has been determined that those guidelines were not accurate then we will do what we need to to stay in compliance, like we have with every aspect of this project and every project we manage."