Agency revises Downeaster train barn panel, proceeds with Brunswick plan
PORTLAND — The agency that runs the Amtrak Downeaster voted Monday to revise its Brunswick train barn advisory group, broadening the panel's scope and membership.
At the same time, however, Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority board members made it clear they are moving ahead with plans to construct the layover facility in an area opposed by some nearby Brunswick residents.
Meeting in NNEPRA's Portland offices, the board renamed the committee the Brunswick Layover Advisory Group and charged it to "facilitate information exchanges between NNEPRA and the Brunswick community."
The decision came less than a week after a confrontational meeting of the prior advisory group, which ended when representatives of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, a citizen group fighting the layover facility, refused to participate in the meeting agenda.
On Monday, NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn acknowledged the session on July 24 was "not the most productive meeting I've ever been to," and said she asked board members to discuss the group's future.
"The way the layover advisory group is structured is just not a productive use of our time or the taxpayers money," Quinn said. "It's pretty frustrating."
At last week's meeting, BWNC members accused Quinn personally of withholding information and intentionally not informing abutters about a storm-water permit application for the facility.
NNEPRA Board Chairman Martin Eisenstein countered that Quinn and other agency staff were unfairly blamed.
BWNC Chairman Bob Morrison told the board that his organization was not trying to "create havoc or assassinate anyone's character," but had longstanding issues with the project.
"We were frustrated," Morrison said. "We were trying to express the concerns that we have."
BWNC has complained about the noise, vibrations, emissions and light discharge expected from the layover facility, and has frequently accused NNEPRA of not providing it with information about the project.
The old advisory group was set up in 2011 to provide input on the design of the planned layover facility.
The reformed group will instead act as a conduit for information to and from NNEPRA and the Brunswick community, as the agency starts building the facility. There will probably not be as much opportunity for input from the public, Quinn said.
The agency plans to build a 60,000-square-foot layover barn at the Brunswick freight yard between Church Road and Stanwood Streets, near a residential community at Bouchard Drive.
Board member Dana Connors said the new committee reflects the project's shift from design to reality.
"We really are now moving from a planning concept to a construction phase," Connors said. "The level of participation and the issues to be addressed are different than in the past."
NNEPRA intends to move forward with the project, at its proposed site, and reapply for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection storm-water permit that Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler voided last month, Quinn said.
Wheeler determined that residents of Bouchard Drive should have been notified about the application because the railroad track that separates them from the facility is a public way.
At the time the permit was approved, the DEP did not consider the track a public way because it is used by private companies, a point the decision clarified.
The board intends to solicit the Town Council and Brunswick neighborhoods, including BWNC, for nominees to the new advisory group, Eisenstein said.
Morrison said that BWNC members will discuss whether to join the new group.
If BWNC members want to join, Eisenstein warned, it must be with the understanding that the location of the facility is no longer up for discussion.
"I don't want it to be a means to say 'why do we have train service to Brunswick, why is the site located here?'" Eisenstein said. "We have other forums to do that."