Opponents request hearing on Brunswick train barn permit

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BRUNSWICK — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection intends to hold a public meeting on Nov. 13 to gather input on a storm-water permit for a proposed passenger train layover facility in Brunswick.

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Brunswick High School, but that could change if the department decides to hold a formal public hearing on the application, as opponents of the project have requested.

The storm-water permit is currently the only application for the facility being considered by DEP.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the agency that runs Amtrak’s Downeaster service, filed the application on Oct. 3 and DEP has until Dec. 17 to rule on it.

NNEPRA plans to build a 60,000-square-foot, $12 million facility in an unused rail yard between Church Road and Stanwood Street. The facility would house up to three locomotives overnight for routine servicing. 

DEP usually accepts written comments on permits under review, but decided to hold the meeting in recognition of the “substantial” public interest in the project, said spokesperson Karl Wilkins. 

The meeting will remain focused on the permit application, not the myriad other reasons people oppose the project, Wilkins noted. 

“I would not characterize this as a chance for people to blow off steam,” he said. “That’s not the reason that we would hold a public meeting on any application.”

Comments received will be considered by the department as it reviews the application, Wilkins said.

But opponents of the project claim to have technical information that conflicts with material NNEPRA has presented, and want DEP to hold a formal public hearing on the permit application. 

DEP can hold a public hearing and take formal testimony if the department determines there is “conflicting technical information” it should take into account before ruling on a permit application, Wilkins explained. 

The department has until Nov. 17 to decide if it will hold a hearing, Wilkins added.

In memos to DEP in support of their request, Charles Wallace, an engineer who owns land near the site, and Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition President Bob Morrison claim the application is almost identical to one earlier rejected by the department, and has what they claim is an incomplete dewatering plan. 

Further, the permit application does not include maintenance and operation plans, does not address the effect of the heavy building on groundwater, and should be required to comply with the state’s site law standards, the two contend. 

Opponents plan a more detailed review of NNEPRA’s application, but “it is apparent that there are a number of major discrepancies in the (permit) documents now before the DEP,” Wallace wrote. 

In an interview this week, Morrison said his group wanted the hearing in order to speak under oath on the conflicts his group sees with the application. 

BWNC claims to represent people from the Bouchard Drive neighborhood adjacent to the tracks who are concerned about possible vibrations, emissions and noise produced by the facility.

The group has declared that it will not be satisfied unless the facility is sited away from their neighborhood.

“We feel very strongly that a good-faith effort was not put in when turning around this second storm-water permit in a very short period of time,” Morrison said. 

If the department decides not to hold a hearing on the project, his group will pursue other avenues to press its cause, Morrison said.

“We will continue to fight until we have a resolution in our favor,” Morrison said, “We feel very strongly that this is no place to put an industrial facility.”

The permit, necessary to begin construction at the site, has proven to be a major sticking point to the project. 

DEP approved a permit for the project last November, but was challenged in court by BWNC that claimed it did not adequately inform abutters about the permit application. 

A superior court judge ruled in favor of BWNC in June, invalidating the permit.

Then in August, DEP rejected NNEPRA’s reapplication because it was incomplete, and demanded the agency respond to questions about the project’s environmental impact. 

NNEPRA replied last month with more than 450 pages of documentation about the project.

While DEP is still reviewing the material, staff have so far determined that a storm-water permit is the document the department requires to begin construction. 

“The project no doubt is extremely controversial and people are asking a lot of questions,” NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn remarked at the agency’s annual board meeting Tuesday evening. 

“I do believe we are being held to a higher standard than many other organizations are on many other projects,” she added, “but I’m very proud to say that we’ve risen to the occasion.”

Through discussions with DEP, her staff has not found anything that will keep it from moving forward with the project, Quinn noted. 

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