Yarmouth councilors prepare for quiet-zone discussion, quietly

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YARMOUTH — The creation of railroad “quiet zones” was discussed at an Oct. 20 meeting of the Town Council’s Operations Committee, despite confusion about whether or not the topic was supposed to be on the agenda.

The agenda merely included a vaguely described item, “council issues and concerns for the November meeting,” but quiet zones were not explicitly listed. However, the zones are on the agenda for a Nov. 6 council workshop, and were discussed at the Operations Committee meeting to prepare for the workshop.

“It really wasn’t on the agenda, but it was preparation,” Councilor Andy Kittredge said.

On Oct. 6, the Operations Committee decided it would put quiet zones on the November agenda after residents complained about the sound of train whistles in the town. The council last year rejected the establishment of the zones, which would prohibit trains from using their horns as they approach crossings with safety improvements.

The topic was permitted in the Oct. 20 meeting under the “issues and concerns” agenda item, but this was not made clear to those who had asked about its inclusion. When asked by The Forecaster on Oct. 17, Town Manager Nat Tupper replied by sending the agenda as an attachment. The body of the email was left blank.

“It was not scheduled for discussion, but it was brought up in the conversation by councilors about planning the agenda for November meeting,” Tupper said later, in an Oct. 28 email.

Yarmouth resident Richard Plourde said he had “checked with people who were involved” to see if quiet zones would be discussed, and they had said no. 

“With the amount of people interested in this, you’d think (the town) would say, ‘no, but (quiet zones) could very well come up,'” Plourde said.

Tupper didn’t know why Plourde was told quiet zones would not be discussed, but said people may have been confused because “it was not on the agenda, and it was not planned for discussion.”

Plourde, along with only one other member of the public, attended the meeting anyway, and said the council discussed quiet zones for approximately half an hour.

Council Chairman Jim MacLeod acknowledged he brought up the topic at the meeting.

“I raised the question because I’m chair of the council,” MacLeod said. “I didn’t have a conversation with Nat or anyone else before going into the meeting.”

MacLeod said he brought up the issue because it will be discussed in the November meeting. He and Kittredge both said no decisions were made Oct. 20. Councilors were only discussing how to handle the issue going forward.

“(The discussion) was not opinionated and debated,” Kittredge said. “It was more procedural of how we’d handle the whole issue.”

MacLeod agreed, saying his questions were about whether or not council was organized and prepared for the November workshop meeting. He said he expects there to be a lot of public input and comment, and he wanted to make sure the council would be prepared to answer questions and make informed statements.

MacLeod said councilors also discussed having a representative of the Federal Railroad Administration present at the Nov. 6 meeting, but that wasn’t feasible because of a scheduling conflict. In addition, MacLeod said councilors talked about creating a community group that would consider possible alternatives to the zones.

Tupper said this was discussed, but that no decision was made.

“I’m not sure they came to a full conclusion, but I think the council intention is to suggest a small citizen committee to review and recommend options, and maybe to provide outside engineering/consulting resources to that committee,” Tupper said in an email.

Plourde said that even though decisions weren’t being made, the discussion was something many members of the public would have been interested in.

“My thought is that if something substantive is being discussed, they’d do it in a more public forum,” he said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

The Elm Street crossing is one of three in Yarmouth that would need to be improved if railroad “quiet zones” were created in the town.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.