Rail board picks 'Brunswick West' for train facility

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PORTLAND — Ending months of study and debate over where a 60,000-square-foot Amtrak layover facility should be established, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority voted Monday to build the $4 million train maintenance building between Stanwood Street and Church Road in Brunswick.

The process was closely watched by neighbors who maintained throughout that Brunswick West, as the property has been identified, is not appropriate. They favored a Cook’s Corner location that is further from residences, but also from Brunswick Station, the eventual northern terminus of Downeaster passenger trains.

But in their final report, the consulting firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff, hired by NNEPRA, concluded that “because of its historical use as a railroad property, proximity to the station, availability and cost effectiveness, (Brunswick West) best accommodates the operational requirements of Downeaster service and the overall development plans of the Town of Brunswick.”

After a nearly five-hour public board meeting on Aug. 18, where the NNEPRA board listened to public comment, board members voted unanimously on Monday to accept the consultants’ recommendation.

NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn also urged the board to select the site off Bouchard Drive.

“The Brunswick West site is probably not just the best, but the only location suitable to housing a layover facility,” she said, reading from a prepared statement.

She also addressed some of what she called misleading information propagated by opponents of the Brunswick West selection at the Aug. 18 meeting.

“The layover facility we are proposing is not the size of the Bath Iron Works dry dock … it’s no taller than a two-story house,” Quinn said, referring to a video produced by the Brunswick Neighborhood Group.

She also reiterated that activities that will not take place at the facility will include washing train  exteriors, painting, storage of hazardous materials or major repairs.

Over the past few months, she said NNEPRA spent $60,000 studying other Brunswick locations.

Quinn also proposed creating an advisory group that would help guide the design of the facility and ensure impact on the neighborhood would be mitigated as much as possible. The group would report to the NNEPRA board, which would make all final decisions about the facility.

She suggested that the group’s membership consist of NNEPRA staff, a consultant, two staff members from the town of Brunswick (she suggested the town planner and a town councilor), two members of the Brunswick community, and an Amtrak representative.

In an interview after Monday’s meeting at the Abrahamson Center on the University of Southern Maine campus, Quinn said she imagined that a resident of the Bouchard Drive and Hennessey Avenue neighborhood would participate in the group, but she didn’t want to limit participation to just that area. She said in the next few weeks NNEPRA would ask the town of Brunswick to recommend group members.

About 10 Brunswick residents attended the meeting, many of whom had spoken out against the Brunswick West site at prior meetings. One resident who had not addressed the board on Aug. 18 was Jeff Reynolds, who emphatically urged the board to put the layover facility at Brunswick West.

State Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, and Town Councilor John Perreault also spoke, and thanked the NNEPRA board for listening to the public.

After the meeting, Kristin Fortier, a Bouchard Drive resident who organized neighborhood opposition to the Brunswick West site, said she expected NNEPRA to choose Brunswick West.

Now, she said, the goal is to get an abutting neighbor onto the building advisory group that Quinn proposed.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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Some Brunswick councilors upset by last-minute decision to address rail board

BRUNSWICK — Some town councilors are angry over the Town Council’s response to the process that resulted in the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority selecting a location for an Amtrak Downeaster layover facility.

The council had no legal jurisdiction over the decision, and councilors were divided over whether to take an official council position. Councilors John Perreault, who represents the area where the layover facility will be built, and Debbie Atwood, who lives nearby, encouraged the council to take a stand against the site.

But other councilors balked at taking an official position, instead choosing to express their opinions independently at an Aug. 18 NNEPRA public meeting.

After the meeting, however, Councilor Margo Knight said she was approached by other councilors wishing to make a formal statement to NNEPRA encouraging the agency to work with the town to mitigate any effects of the proposed facility.

And so, over the weekend, Knight called as many councilors as she could and drafted a letter to the NNEPRA board that Chairman Martin Eisenstein read aloud at NNEPRA’s Monday meeting in Portland.

“While the Town Council has not voted on this issue, I, and a majority of councilors, urge NNEPRA to work collaboratively with the town of Brunswick and affected residents of our community,” the letter said.

While no one seems to disagree with the contents of the letter, Perreault and Atwood were angry about the way it was written. They said council business should be conducted at public meetings, not in last-minute, weekend phone calls.

“In my opinion it’s very inappropriate,” Perreault said.

“John and I tried to get a special meeting called to have this actual conversation out loud in the council chambers,” Atwood said. “That was part of what was so highly frustrating.”

Knight said by the time most councilors decided they wanted to make a group statement, it was too late to hold a public meeting.

“Obviously, the majority of us felt this is the only way to do this,” she said.

In addition to objecting to the process, Atwood and Perreault noted that Knight did not contact them or Councilor Benet Pols until after the letter was drafted. Atwood suggested that this was because the three of them openly objected to building the Amtrak facility between Stanwood Street and Church Road.

Knight said it was a busy weekend, and she wasn’t able to get in touch with everyone.

Atwood said the letter was ultimately a minor dispute, but brought to light councilors’ relationships to institutions like NNEPRA and views about what is best for Brunswick. Based on comments made to the NNEPRA board at past public forums, Atwood said,  she, Perreault and Pols “have a higher comfort level with challenging authority” than other councilors.

Knight said the issue was divisive because the council’s role is unclear.

“This is a classic example of where a councilor has to weigh what’s good for the town as a whole versus effects on a group of people within a community,” she said, “… and that is one of the most difficult decision processes we have to go through.”

— Emily Guerin