Passenger rail panel member from Brunswick denies conflict of interest

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BRUNSWICK — A director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is denying claims his affiliation with a group opposed to a train layover facility puts him in a conflict of interest.

Robert McEvoy, a Brunswick resident who owns a Bouchard Drive home near the site of the proposed train barn, was nominated by Gov. Paul LePage to fill an empty seat on the seven-member NNEPRA board of directors in March. He was confirmed by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee in April. 

Prior to his appointment, McEvoy was an organizer for the Brunswick Neighborhood West Coalition, a group opposed to the layover station.

In an interview Tuesday, McEvoy denied having a conflict of interest and said he has not decided whether to take part in future discussions about the facility. 

“What I do in the future, I will decide in the future,” McEvoy said. 

While the board cannot enforce state ethics law, it has asked its attorney to review NNEPRA’s policies to see if McEvoy is in violation, board Chairman Martin Eisenstein said. 

It will be up to McEvoy to decide if there is a conflict and how to deal with it, he added.

“If the public feels it is an issue, than I feel it is something Mr. McEvoy needs to address,” Eisenstien said. “But it is up to him to address. It’s not for me to criticize.”

McEvoy’s involvement with BWNC, and the fact the layover facility could have an impact on property he owns, might be considered a conflict of interest, or an appearance of a conflict, according to Bruce Sleeper, an attorney for the passenger rail advocacy group Train Riders Northeast.

Maine law prohibits public officials from participating in proceedings in which they have a direct and substantial financial interest.

In a Nov. 21 letter to NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn, Sleeper said McEvoy has been quoted in news articles about the impact the layover facility may have on his health and the value of his home. 

NNEPRA proposed the 60,000-square-foot, $12 million project three years ago as part of a project to support another Downeaster round trip between Brunswick and Boston. 

“The timing is significant because up to now, there haven’t been any board votes or any real proceedings involving the layover facility,” Sleeper said. “But in the future, there will be. We’re not asking him to resign or anything, we’re just saying he shouldn’t participate in proceedings involving the layover facility.”

But others, including Brunswick resident Emily Boochever, who also wrote a letter to NNEPRA about McEvoy’s position, have called for his immediate resignation. 

Boochever, Sleeper and Brunswick resident Jeff Reynolds also expressed their concerns to the NNEPRA board at a Nov. 24 meeting.

“I don’t think he should have ever been appointed,” Boochever said in an interview last week. “It just seems like his whole presence there is unnecessary and unhelpful.”

Boochever and Train Riders Northeast have focused on an Aug. 26 letter McEvoy sent to Bill Bullard, a DEP project manager, expressing concerns that a NNEPRA storm-water permit application with the department was incomplete. NNEPRA’s application was rejected the next day.

McEvoy did not identify himself as a NNEPRA board member in the letter, stating only that he is a “a resident of Bouchard Drive.” 

“The fact that he even contacted DEP at this sensitive point in the storm-water permit process and never took his concerns to the board or the staff of NNEPRA sort of shows that he does not have any allegiance to the board,” Boochever said. 

McEcvoy on Tuesday disputed the assertion that his property holdings have bearing on his board service, noting that the legislative committee that approved his confirmation had full knowledge of his address and property.

“If you consider that a conflict, then nobody in this neighborhood would be eligible to be on the NNEPRA board,” he said. “It’s a stretch.”

McEvoy said he had reservations about the storm-water permit submitted by NNEPRA and felt taking it to the department was the best course.

“The issues were before DEP and not NNEPRA,” McEvoy said. “The appropriate thing for me to do as a citizen, not as a board member, was to address my comments to DEP.”

“I have a lot of reservations about this project,” he added, “and that’s why I’ve been tracking various things that have been happening.”

McEvoy said most of Sleeper’s and Boochever’s concerns  “rehashed” testimony they gave at his confirmation hearing, where three people spoke against his confirmation while five, including state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, and Jonathan Nass, a senior adviser to LePage, spoke for him.

In answers to a questionnaire required by the Legislature after his nomination, McEvoy said his involvement with BWNC led him to seek membership on the NNEPRA board.

“I have been very disappointed in the operation of both the NNEPRA staff and executive board,” McEvoy told legislators.

He said his appointment posed no actual or potential conflict of interest, but said he believed Quinn, NNEPRA’s executive director, would oppose his nomination because of his involvement with BWNC.

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

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