Train barn foes, Downeaster official clash in Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — A meeting of an advisory group for a proposed train layover facility Thursday lapsed into an acrimonious exchange between opponents of the project and representatives of the agency that runs the Amtrak Downeaster.

At the meeting, three members of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition protested that the meeting agenda did not include discussion of several recent developments surrounding the project.

Many of the representatives’ comments were aimed directly at Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

A judge’s invalidation of a storm water permit for the proposed facility and a letter from six state legislators urging NNEPRA to place the layover facility in South Portland instead of Brunswick were among the issues they said were being ignored.

Reading from a written statement, BWNC member Dan Sullivan said the group was “disappointed by the lack of substance” in a meeting agenda received late Wednesday afternoon.

“Truthfully, we weren’t surprised,” Sullivan said. “The information sharing at the Advisory Group meetings has been tightly controlled by Patricia Quinn, and the meetings themselves have had an air of indifference right from the start.”

Sullivan, Chris Casey, and Bob Morrison are representatives to the advisory committee from BWNC.

Other members of the nine-person panel include Quinn and Jim Russel from NNEPRA, representatives from Amtrak and the Maine Department of Transportation, Brunswick Planning Director Anna Breinich, and Town Councilor John Perreault.

Breinich and Perreault did not attend the meeting.

The BWNC contingent said a July 11 letter from Quinn to residents asking for input on a color for the facility “conveniently ignores” the issues the group wanted to discuss and “is an insult to all of us.”

If the group will not talk about the issues BWNC considers important, Sullivan said, “it will be further proof that this Advisory Group is nothing but a sham.”

Sullivan added that BWNC is not against a layover facility, but wants it moved to a different location. He also questioned the rail authority’s release of information, and its efforts to mitigate noise and pollution.

He further questioned whether NNEPRA intends to reapply for the environmental permitting necessary for the project.

In response to Sullivan’s statements, Quinn said she understood that the group was opposed to the facility’s site, but declared that NNEPRA had provided all the information it was asked for and would obtain necessary permits for the facility.

Despite the group’s preference for another site, she said the facility will still be built in Brunswick.

“We’re moving ahead with this,” Quinn said.

NNEPRA intends to reapply for a storm water permit invalidated by a judge who found the agency did not properly notify abutters about its application, she added.

Quinn flatly denied Sullivan’s suggestion that she, or any NNEPRA staff, had intentionally applied for the permit without formally notifying neighbors.

“That is absolutely, positively false,” Quinn said.

Cogsigli Construction, the contractors working on the project, filed the permit application following Maine Department of Environmental Protection rules, Jim Russell, the NNEPRA project manager, said.

The judge’s ruling, he added, showed that residents in the Brunswick West neighborhood should have been notified because the railroad that separates it from the facility was a public right of way.

At the time the permit was approved, DEP did not believe the track was public because it is used by private companies, Russell said, a point the court decision clarified.

“NNEPRA did it by the book,” he 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.

NNEPRA says the facility will make it possible for trains to power down and receive routine maintenance, and eliminate the need to bring them back and forth from a maintenance facility in Portland. It will allow the Downeaster to run six trains a day between Brunswick and Boston.

The arguments by Quinn and Russell did nothing to alleviate the concerns of the BWNC representatives, who refused to discuss any of the meeting’s other agenda items, including a lighting plan and color scheme for the facility.

“We don’t wish to participate in any discussion that assumes that this building is going to be placed in our neighborhood,” Morrison, the BWNC chairman, said.

But the BWNC strategy isn’t shared by everyone in the neighborhood.

Several members of the audience, who also live near the proposed site, said after the meeting that they are fed up with BWNC’s position.

“Utterly outrageous things are being said,” said Jeff Reynolds, who lives on Redwood Lane, two streets south of Bouchard Drive.

“They refuse to participate,” he said of BWNC. “How does that represent the neighborhood?”

Kathy Wilson, who lives on Pleasant Street, north of the proposed site, agreed.

“No matter what is solved,” she said, “(BWNC comes) up with a new argument.”

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