Rail advocates: Brunswick train barn debate over

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BRUNSWICK — The neighborhood group that fought construction of an Amtrak maintenance and layover facility in west Brunswick will not challenge the facility’s stormwater permit in Superior Court.

The decision means construction of the estimated $12.7 million terminal, which proponents say is needed to provide more efficient and possibly expanded passenger rail service in Maine, can proceed. Construction has been underway since fall, and is expected to continue through September, according to the Amtrak Downeaster website.

The Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition last July appealed to the Board of Environmental Protection to block the permit issued to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority by the Department of Environmental Protection. The panel is the department’s citizen oversight board.

But the board unanimously upheld the permit for the project on Nov. 19, 2015.

The complainants then had 30 days to file an appeal of that decision with the state attorney general’s office. BEP spokeswoman Cynthia Bertocci confirmed Monday that no appeal had been filed.

“So ends a multi-year struggle to obtain the final permit necessary for the facility,” Wayne Davis, chairman of the rail advocacy group Trainriders Northeast, said in a press release.

“Although many in the Brunswick area supported NNEPRA’s proposed location for the facility,” he said, “a group of neighbors who had purchased property next to what has historically been a rail yard … objected, claiming that the facility should be located elsewhere.”

The fact that there has been no further appeal is “good news,” Davis said in a phone interview Monday.

In an interview Wednesday, BWNC spokesman Charles Wallace said the group ran out of money to continue the appeal process.

“That whole nasty affair was fought with taxpayer dollars,” he said, referring to the fact that NNEPRA, which operates the Downeaster, is a public transportation authority.

“You can’t continue to fight an unlimited source of your own money,” Wallace said.

He maintained that despite the end of the appeal process, he still believes the permitting process was fundamentally flawed because a state agency, the DEP, was regulating another quasi-public body.

“It was a very seriously botched public process, and it’s always going to be a botched public process when you have people who meet … behind the scenes,” Wallace said.

The result is “putting cancer-causing diesel (emissions) in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” he said. The World Health Organization classifies diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans, although the levels of exposure associated with cancer risk have not been determined.

The Brunswick facility’s steel structure and framework were erected on the site as of Dec. 16, 2015, a photo gallery on the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s website shows.

The construction has received a positive reaction from others in town. Councilor Kathy Wilson, in an interview Wednesday, said “we’re behind the world in terms of transportation.”

“Public transportation is the only answer,” she added.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Workers install steel roof  beams Dec. 16, 2015, at the Amtrak layover facility being built between Stanwood Street and Church Road in Brunswick.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.
  • Chew H Bird

    Yes, the people who wanted an ongoing revenue deficit and pollutant increase appear to have won the day.

    • poppypapa

      C’mon, Chew. A deficit of $13 million for the current year against an operating budget of $22.5 million is down in the noise, if you’re a big government lover. And that deficit is ONLY up by $2 million over the prior year.

      The $13 million figure, of course, assumes we won’t have ‘unexpected’ harsh winter conditions from here on out, like we did last year. We’re also left to wonder whether all the reduced special fares offered recently were planned for on the revenue side.

      Details, details, details. Rome didn’t fall in a day, as the old saying goes.

  • wlord

    Maine HDTV flew its drone over the construction site before our recent snow storm and documented the facility’s progress. We are FAA-approved for commercial aerials, notified the Brunswick Executive Airport and checked in with the Brunswick Police Department. You can view the video here:

  • Jane Gildart

    I am disgusted with Wayne Davis’s disparaging attitude toward decent people “who had purchased property next to what has historically been a rail yard,” as if it’s not rational for them to object to this government-funded boondoggle in their back yards.
    Here’s what was rational in the decisions those people made when they bought their homes.
    Hmmm, should I be concerned about this nearby railbed? No, it’s lightly used and not particularly disruptive to the neighborhood. Will that change? Well, it shouldn’t get busier because rail transport has become a money loser, and the trend is toward less rail activity, not more. Hence, a perfectly rational assessment of the situation was that there was no reason to be concerned about buying property there.

    Here’s what turned that rational analysis on its head: the irrational decision by politicians to indulge Wayne Davis and the passenger train lobby by providing enormous never-ending subsidies to a money-losing passenger train service that does nothing to take “cars off the road” or reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and in fact adds pollution to the air and water.

    Go ahead and cheerlead for your train boondoggle, “Trainriders,” but stop disparaging the neighbors, who are actually the rational actors in all this.

    • poppypapa

      Jane: Don’t forget that the ‘yard’ was zoned for years for a 20,000 sf max mixed industrial use building. Now being built is a heavy industrial use building of nearly three times that size, because the federal government simply exempted themselves (through pre-emption) from those zoning regulations that were intended to serve as protection for the local area.

      The Brunswick ruling class abetted this activity by a number of means, besides throwing millions in taxpayer money at Downeaster related projects.

      The feds also were able to escape all the other usual permits that would be required for a private enterprise, except for the stormwater permit.

    • Aliyah33

      Disgust should include other self-serving individuals playing parts in this “government-funded boondoggle”, namely former Town Councilor Joanne King:

      ” ‘This is one of the most significant developments that we’ve been working on for the time that I’ve been on the council,’ Brunswick Town Council Chairwoman Joanne King said while aboard the inaugural train.

      King, who is leaving the council this year, was involved in much of the development for Brunswick’s Maine Street Station and related projects in the 9 1/2 years she has served on council.” (Forecaster article, Nov. 2012).

      King’s dubious distinctions include approximately a quarter million dollars “forgiveable loan” for her Brunswick Taxi… her husband’s Brunswick Taxi? The $6.5 million police station (isn’t Mr. King a former police officer?), the public boat launch near her house… Yes, 9 1/2 years of “service” to taxpayers was enough time to get what she wanted.

  • poppypapa

    Kathy Wilson’s comment about being behind the rest of the world in transportation is bizarre fantasy and typical rail foamer propaganda. Readers can visit here: http://americandreamcoalition.org/pdfs/ADGuide.pdf to find discussion of most of the myths put forward by transit dreamers.

    The reporter is probably too busy to look into such things, just as he didn’t have the time to ask Councilor Kathy why she recently moved her home and business, which were less than 300 yards from the marvelous new MLF on a major thoroughfare, to a location nearly four times further away, on an in-town side-street.

    Just coincidence, he probably assumed.

    Nothing like following up on the story to keep readers informed.

  • Earl D. Porker

    The safest place in that portion of Brunswick, when Amtrack starts servicing one behemoth carcinogen belcher after another, will be inside the LMF barn. The fumes will be vented outside, into the Brunswick environment.

    • poppypapa

      Good point, Earl. Amtrak employees will be protected at a cost of millions, while taxpayers will be showered with diesel dust. Councilor Kathy, however, got out just in time.

  • farmertom2

    Gah, finally. It’s been like one of those movies where the victim is poisoned, then shot, then stabbed– still he keeps crawling forward… Finally he is blown up by a hand grenade and the pieces burn to dust…