Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Legislative “Oversight” of NNEPRA: what a joke!


This may go back too far for most readers, but something like two years ago, the Maine Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) undertook an audit of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA).  The decision to do so was based on a lengthy list of issues associated with poor management, poor stewardship of public funds, and several other weighty indictments, all document in due detail. 

The Government Oversight Committee of the Legislature, which exists solely to direct the efforts of OPEGA, quickly demonstrated a reluctance to look into the government itself, and before long, discussions on the subject soon led to how they might withdraw themselves from the effort.  2016, with its pending election to fill all Legislative seats anew in November, provided a nice escape clause, with then members stating how they didn’t want to presume that a newly formed GOC following the election would support the idea of the audit.

So they looked for a plausible and politically expedient way to round file the effort and stop the proceedings.  Soon enough they came up with the idea of embellishing “oversight” of  NNEPRA to increase accountability and prevent sub-optimal performance in the future.

As shown here, “oversight” has more than one meaning.  We suggest based on our years of experience in this matter that definitions 1 and 2 below are relevant to this discussion, because definition 3 sure as hell is not.


On Thursday, March 1st, Patricia Quinn, Executive Director of NNEPRA, presented a “Downeaster Update” to the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation, which you can find here:


We believe this was in fulfillment of the committee’s newfound “oversight” responsibilities.

Side and a colleague were in attendance, and as far as we could tell, no others in the very sparse audience were there for her talk.  They seemed to be there for a work session that would follow on totally unrelated legislation.  We saw not a single NNEPRA Board Member, or anyone from MDOT or the Governor’s Office.

Ms. Quinn arrived barely one minute before her scheduled agenda slot, and offered brief hellos to a few of the committee members present.  She then launched into her presentation, which she completed in 20 minutes, moving so quickly that we considered her style dismissive of the committee.  30 + slides in 20 minutes is nearly a world record.

Likewise, we considered the committee’s behavior dismissive of their oversight obligations.  11 of the 13 members were present for this “important” event.  Questions following Quinn’s brief were at best perfunctory, relating to food service and the proposed summer trips to Rockland, and most were from a single committee member.

Even though we had submitted two memos to this committee in recent months calling for an investigation of NNEPRA on two very specific matters, they acted as if they had never read them, which is likely the reality of the matter.

As soon as Quinn answered the few questions, she packed up her kit-bag and ran for the exit.

So much for “oversight” and “accountability.”  As we suggested in the title of this post, the whole episode was a real joke.  But one that only NNEPRA staff and foamers would laugh at, we’d like to think.  Otherwise, it was a perfect example of how feckless and un-committed to “public servanthood” our elected and appointed officials are, if not downright corrupt and incompetent.

Based on our experience, we’d like to suggest that definition two in the dictionary entry above be edited to replace “unintentional” with “intentional.”

That would more accurately describe the behavior we observe in our state officials in recent years.


And there’s not a damn thing we can do about;  not that we haven’t been trying. 

We have the flattened forehead to prove it.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Welcome Wagon seems to have lost its way….


The other night, before climbing the stair well to our bed chamber, donning our nite-cap, and blowing out the candles, we decided to watch a replay of the Sanctuary Brunswick agenda item at Tuesday night’s town council meeting.  You can find the on demand recording here:


The discussion was something like an hour and a half in on the replay; you’ll have to find it yourself.  We don’t have the stomach to look at it again to find you the time stamp.


Here’s the link to the group that brought this breakthrough to our town: http://www.sanctuarybrunswick.com/posts/

Two things jumped out and grabbed us as we watched the replay, notwithstanding the fact that comments from the councilors frequently leave us aghast for a variety of reasons.

On this night, we were particularly struck by how many of our elected governing elite can completely ignore the reality that words have meaning, and choices have consequences.  In this specific case, the drive to be seen as virtuous before the cameras allowed several to brazenly ignore the plain English meaning of the written words in the resolution before them.  They choose to be Alice in Wonderland like and assert that words mean whatever they wish them to mean.

Secondly, there was repeated bandying about of the psycho-babble phrases “this is not who we are” and “this is who we are.”  We don’t know about you, but we don’t like one bit when elected officials suggest in public view that they know “who we are” or “who we are not.”  They have no right, or no divine knowledge to claim understanding of 20,000 plus residents’ view of matters such as these.  Perhaps they should think about the meaning of their words before they utter them; they really were saying something more like “this is what I want all residents of our town to think” or “not think.”

The more we reflected on this last point, the more we recognized that these sentiments from elected betters are certifiably false and unsustainable.  Here’s why.

Brunswick is home to a “prominent” journalist who’s opinion pieces are published in a free weekly newspaper distributed in southern Maine.  He hasn’t lived here all that long, and when he moved to our town, he let readers know that Brunswick is inferior to his beloved Yarmouth, but that he moved here to find a home that would cost him less.


More often than not, this columnist asserts his moral, social, and intellectual superiority to the unwashed masses upon which he looks down.  Including thousands in Brunswick.


This columnist’s tolerance for those who see things differently than he has always been lip service at best.  A recent column of his provides a useful example.


In the comment thread, in which we and various others were participants, he labeled those who voted for Hillary Clinton’s opponent in the 2016 general election “white trash Americans” and racists and sexists and all sorts of other derogatory terms.  He’s an expert at descending into vicious name-calling at the drop of a hat, all while maintaining his lily-white moral superiority.

In the process, he labeled more than 3600 town residents with these defamatory terms.  Even worse, he inspires his groupies to indulge in the same approach, though most of them can’t match his vitriol.  In the same thread, one of his most fervent fan-girls called the same voters “lousy Americans.”


As for the state, these two thought leaders, and those who agree with them, called more than 330,000 Maine voters the same reprehensible names.

Our point here, which should be obvious to most, but not to town councilors and other opinion formation gurus, is that they should think twice before making assertions about “who we are” and “who we are not.”

Shouldn’t these illuminati have learned that allocating population segments into various categorical “baskets” is a very dangerous way to think? 

Not to mention a gross insult to the very idea of tolerance, diversity of thought, and individuality. 

Especially when combined with failure to comprehend plain English.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Here in Brunswick, we’re known as givers. You don’t mind paying for it, do you?


Brunswick has a contingent of penny-pinchers when it comes to what makes sense for municipal spending and what doesn’t, and we have not a shadow of a doubt that Side is viewed as a charter member of that group.  We’re proud to be so, because  it means we have a healthy respect for OPM….other people’s money.  OPM is the mother’s milk of those who like to signal their virtue by lavishing it on the cause celebre of the moment or the era.  We also delude ourselves into believing we have common sense, and respect for fellow residents.

As we often quote,

“No one spends other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own.”

Witness the recent vote to establish Sanctuary Brunswick, as we discussed in this recent post: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2018/02/sanctuary-brunswick-what-does-it-really.html

The proponents of that resolution will claim it has no financial consequences, but that’s a load of bull.  Stating that no funds were appropriated to back it up is to misrepresent the consequences of announcing that we are open and affirming and welcoming to any and all, especially without regard to their immigration status.  But let’s not dwell on those nits.


Instead, we come to you today to discuss Brunswick’s new found love of drones.  We don’t imagine many of you remember the “No drones for Brunswick” movement that surfaced briefly, and even sprouted bumper stickers, as base closure proceeded and rumors of it being a site for testing of military “drones” was rumored. 

“Drones” was used in a pejorative sense, because the subject vehicles were more correctly identified as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAV’s.  For a while, these were an item of some interest in Defense planning, since they could take on a number of roles of manned aircraft without the risk to human lives inherent in the latter.

In the blink of an eye, UAV’s were eclipsed by drones more akin to sophisticated toys.  In fact, our grandson got one for Christmas.  Even the most basic include a video camera as it’s basic payload, and the video is digitized and available live to viewing devices on the ground.  Note the use of the words “unmanned drone.”  That’s deceptive; there may be no one inside the drone, but it can’t operate without “manning” on the ground controlling it and monitoring its video.  Not to mention the overall planning for its use and routine patrol plan.  (Pardon us for using the terms unmanned and manning.)

This particular drone related story, appearing January 17, 2018, is our main focus here:


A question immediately came to mind as we read the story:  why isn’t this a NNEPRA, PanAm, or Amtrak responsibility, instead of Brunswick’s?  These are private rights of way; not Brunswick’s public jurisdiction.  We’re probably out of our league here legally.   We assume the plan is to monitor the entire extent of the right of way within Brunswick borders, which will include the track and crossings east of Brunswick Station when the summer service being proposed goes into effect, taking passengers to Rockland.

Brunswick police patrol our street from time to time, which means they’re looking for suspicious activity on our residential properties, at least to the extent they can see on these properties.  The road they patrol is a public way, not a private thorofare.

But we don’t expect them to employ drones to monitor activity on our property, nor would we want them to.  Even though we pay significant sums via our property taxes to fund their patrols and related actions. 

We can think of lots of things Police could use drones for in monitoring behavior in the public domain.  Among them jay-walking on Maine St, and running of stop signs at Woodside and  Pleasant Hill, and Pleasant Hill and Church Road.  These uses could even generate revenue to offset the costs.

None-the-less, we are perplexed by the notion of our Police taking on the responsibility for monitoring Downeaster operations.  To begin with, this could/should be handled by NNEPRA and Amtrak personnel using strategically located video cameras.  It appears to us that cameras are located at the Church Road grade crossing, and likely elsewhere.  You can see the camera in this photo of the equipment installation adjacent to the crossing.


Furthermore, we know for a fact that Amtrak has their own police force.  We’ve seen them here in town as shown in this snapshot, taken near the Town Hall:


So as far as we’re concerned, NNEPRA, Amtrak, or Pan Am has the responsibility for monitoring the safety of the right of way utilized by the Downeaster, including the “rail yard” area on which the Layover Facility is located.

In case it hasn’t occurred to you, real time monitoring by the Brunswick Police, which is the only kind that makes sense if “accidents” or other public safety violations are to be avoided, will require installation of monitoring equipment at Police HQ, and assignment of personnel to pilot the drones and monitor their video 24 hours a day.  Recording will be required for use in any legal proceedings that might pursue.  Then there’s the planning and reporting required to conduct such surveillance.

Where are the detailed concept disclosure and cost estimates for providing this service?  Where is the plan for reimbursement by NNEPRA?

Or will the entire cost of this service be added as a surcharge on Downeaster tickets sold for arrival and departure at Brunswick station?


Talk about causing a case of the vapors…that should surely do it.

But as you probably can guess, we don’t really give a fig.  Or a banana, or a case of mangoes.

This is not our responsibility, and it’s not yours either.  The total burden for this effort needs to land on the desk of Patricia Quinn at NNEPRA, and she’ll have to decide how to pay for it.


Which, given the Downeaster business model, means we’ll all end up paying for it anyway so we can keep Ambassadors and other local dignitaries happy.  We all know they aren’t willing to travel by the same conveyances we little people use.

Like we said, Brunswick is a town of givers.  Even if the gift needs to be compelled from us by government. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sanctuary Brunswick; what does it really tell us?


Which is from this article:


Here’s the introduction of this item for the Council Agenda of 20 February:


Here’s the text of the subject resolution:


As we see it, the key passage in the resolution is this:


When it comes to matters of law, the key words seem to be “without regard to…..citizenship or immigration status.”

Councilor Kathy Wilson, who apparently has the legal credentials we lack, made this comment:

“This isn’t going to change laws,” she said. “What this does is just extend a hand that says you’re welcome here.”

Sorry, but to us, this resolution is tantamout to telling the Police Department to avoid questioning the “citizenship or immigration status” of anyone they encounter within Brunswick’s boundaries.   It may not be CHANGING laws, but it sure seems like changing the ENFORCEMENT of laws.

We suppose we’ll take a lot of heat for this, but how does this not amount to the Town Council giving itself the authority to welcome and protect fugitives from justice?  What other categories of illegality will Brunswick declare itself to be unwilling to enforce?

How about those with revoked driver’s licenses?  Don’t they have rights as well?  How about those ignoring court orders for child support and other domestic obligations?  Will Brunswick welcome and protect them?  How about those on the SOR?  Will drug dealers be given refuge here?

We trust the Town Council will promptly direct the Police Department to enumerate those laws that will be enforced within our boundaries, and those that won’t.

More importantly, will the Town Council and the Police Department tell us which freedoms we now enjoy they will no longer respect?  How about the freedom to seek a concealed carry permit?  If that freedom does not please the council, will it pass a resolution making it null and void?  Is the Town Council now a legislative body able to nullify state and federal law that defines either illegality or legality?

This action by the Town Council is just another step down the slippery slope we talked about when they created the Brunswick Human Rights Task Force.  Each and every member of the Town Council knows it is political suicide to oppose such feel good actions, and that they will eventually have to up the ante by passing various regulations and resolutions and other virtue signalling expansions in this regard.

And if you haven’t already thought about it, we could now be seen as competition for Lewiston in such matters.  We hope “Sanctuary Brunswick” and councilors who supported this resolution are preparing space in their own homes to demonstrate their welcoming attitudes.  And changing local ordinances that govern setting up camp on public and private properties.  Otherwise, the sentiments expressed are nothing more than moral posturing, and a hollow sentiment designed to put the burden on others who did not sign up for it.

Before we close, we have one more tangential issue that is frying our knee socks.  Several years ago we proposed the Council undertake an “Economic Benefit Study” to determine the local effects of the Downeaster coming to town, since that was the primary rationale for investing vast sums of federal, state, and local moneys to make it happen.  And in a moment of collaborative inspiration, we proposed it be a joint effort with Bowdoin Economics majors.

We posted many items on the general subject, but this one might be the most relevant at the moment:


We were told at the time that we would need multiple councilors to give the OK to make it an item on an upcoming Council agenda….just so it could be discussed in public.  As we reported in the post, we could not get anyone we contacted to agree to move the idea forward for discussion.


This Sanctuary resolution, which is pursuant to enforcement of the law in Brunswick, appears to have come before the Council for a vote because of one councilor’s sponsorship.

Pardon us for thinking that standards relating to Council agenda items are lacking in any sort of rigor, and instead, are based completely on emotion, sentiment, and socio-political expediency.

But hey; that’s just us, and we’re in the overwhelming minority on such matters.

Monday, February 19, 2018

As long as we’re on the subject…..

Fraud, waste, and abuse that is, slathered in lard….or rendered pork fat, for the non-foodie.


As the saying goes, pork fat rules.

Remember this post from last August?


It included this string of visuals and the takeaway line that summed them up:


Wonder why this deserves to be called ANYTHING but a private freakin’ airport?  Just take a look at these snips, from the Forecaster as well:





Private airport you say?  The hell it is!  The figures above come to “more than”



Hence the “yes there is a Santa Claus” slant we gave the earlier post.

Ever at your service, if not Speedy Gonzalez in all such matters, we went after the documentation for the latest “$2 million plus” grant.  We spent, as we recall, something like $9.00 to have MRRA staff reproduce the relevant document, some 53 pages, for us.  The vast majority of that document is standard boilerplate that will make your eyes glaze under.

To shield you from such pain, we distilled the source document down to 16 pages of germane substance, and posted them to scribd for you to read and weep….or whatever might float your aircraft in such instances.  You’ll find it here:



Reading the pages again today made us want to wring a figurative neck or twenty while at the same time weeping uncontrollably for the unmitigated incompetence and reckless spending of taxpayer dollars that is rife among “public servants,” at all levels – municipal, state, and federal.  Some have taller ladders and can reach further up the money tree, but they all go picking all year long.

We hope you’ll read the pages we scanned and posted for you; they provide some real insights if you reflect on them just a bit.

Here are some of the “highlights” we gleaned from the pages:

  • This is Phase 4 of the Hangar Improvement Program.
  • “Preliminary expense,” undefined, is $231,000.
  • Project inspection fees are $121,200.  Wow….what precision, and what an absurd sum.  How long will it take to confirm that painting was done, lavatories were upgraded, and light bulbs were changed?  How many tiers of subcontractors are dining out on this item alone?
  • Summation of the work done for $2 million plus is as follows:image

Enough; let’s cut to the chase.  As we told you in that post in August:

Turns out we’ve got some insight for you.  According to staff at the facility, the average day at Brunswick Executive Airport (BXM) sees 3 (three) takeoff and landing events.  That’s equivalent to 1,100 a  year. 

Surely you can see why millions of dollars for improving those hangars are critical to BXM success!  You can, can’t you?  Trust on this, because we’re not like all the others.

In round numbers, then, the federal government has been chipping in about $2,000 for each and every takeoff and landing event.  That doesn’t count the fed’s administrative costs, interest expense, and all the rest.  Our wild guess is that easily adds another $1,000 per event, for a grand total of $3,000 per that taxpayers and lenders and printers have to cough up.

Simply put, this is a gigantic rip-off of taxpayers, and a total abuse of the public trust, enthusiastically abetted by the likes of our Senators….King, Angus, and Susan Collins…so they can be glorified in the local print and electronic media.

Here’s the way we see this whole “grant” scheme working.  Various entities of federal and state government are allocated blocks of funding for such purposes, whether it makes sense or not.

It reminds us of when the Sides were first married.  Mrs. Side would ask “how much is in the checkbook?,” to which we responded “why do you ask?”  Her response?: “so I know how much I can spend.”  How’s that for robust budgeting on the home front?

The whole idea of “grants” is that they automatically carry a veneer of necessity and carefully vetted project spending.

We assert just the opposite; that they are a masking of the pork parade, a lovely sauce if you will, to hide the pork fat while touting the lean.  Just look at the Royal Junction Siding Project we just told you about.

We believe the granting organizations each year seek absurd sums in block form to fund their grant programs, citing the requests and applications submitted in prior years to demonstrate how “great the need is.”  Which reminds me of Mrs. Side putting together a list of every item she would like replaced in our humble abode, and the renovations, expansions, and upgrades she also considers “necessary and vital.”

Budget deliberators, demonstrating their fiscal responsibility, take a $1 billion grant program request and pare it down to $500 million or so, in order to “save taxpayers money and avoid running up the deficit and the national debt.”

That’s the equivalent of us taking the raw request from our spouse for $100,000 in household investment in this budget year, and paring it down to $50,000 or so, which we don’t begin to have for any such work.

Once the requesting government organization gets their annual grant fund allocation, you can bet they will spend it all, and the choices will be made with the clear-eyed guidance of elected officials who “know best” what the actual needs are.  All the money will get spent, whether there is rational justfication or not.

What a crock of crap.  Pure pork distribution,  pandering, and glorification of office-holders.  Do King and Collins really want us to believe they carefully reviewed the grant applications, and only approved those that are critical, especially in the context of our annual deficits and out of control federal debt?

This is the equivalent of your teenager coming to you and asking for $250 to spend on a good time this coming weekend, and you declaring that you’ll only give him $150.  After doing so, you tell your frau what a miser you are in such matters, and how you’re watching out for family finances.  All while telling your kid how grateful he should be for your generosity, and how he ought to give you another few years to serve as his father.

Yeah, that’s the way to do things.  When he wants you to buy him a new $30,000 truck because he’s graduating from High School, tell him you’ll only spring for a used one at $20,000 or less.


Geez; what a stingy son bitch you are, Old Man!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Can it be Fraud, Waste, and Abuse if it’s only $10 million or so?


We posted many, many months ago, about wasteful projects NNEPRA is undertaking to “optimize” their Portland North Service.  One of these projects is the Royal Junction Siding, just getting underway at a cost of ~ $10 million.  Here’s a schematic of the proposal:


We also included it in the materials we brought before the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability when they audited NNEPRA operations two years ago, at the direction of the Government Oversight Committee of the Maine Legislature.   Sad to say, but the committee ‘elected’ not to continue the audit when it came time for a new set of legislators to be elected.

Given our love of banging our head against walls, we thought about this particular project a good deal more, and decided we just could not give it a good leaving alone and still have a conscience we could look straight in the eye.

So in December, we submitted a memo asking for an oversight investigation of the project, coupled with a stop order for it until such time as it could be determined to be necessary and sound public policy and spending.  You can read the memo here:


Here’s an excerpt or two to whet your whistle:

To: Chairs and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation

cc: Governor's Office (Governor; McGough; Libby)

MDOT (Commissioner; Nass; Moulton; Hayes)

Government Oversight Committee; OPEGA

Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs

From: Pem Schaeffer

Brunswick, Maine



Date: December 10, 2017

Subject: Call for immediate investigation into NNEPRA management failings

My understanding is that the Maine State Legislature now has authority and responsibility for active oversight of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), and that it vests in the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation.

Accordingly, I request that you immediately schedule investigative hearings into two specific evolutions for which NNEPRA has direct responsibility. Each involves clear management ineptitude, and merits your attention as guardians of the public trust. These are the Royal Siding Project just getting underway, and deficiencies in the design, construction, and operation of the Brunswick Layover Facility, in use since late 2016.

And this conclusion:


Given these two grievous compromises of the public trust by NNEPRA, and the waste of both state and federal taxpayer funds they embody, I implore you in the strongest of terms to:

  • Immediately issue a stop order for the Royal Siding Project to minimize wasted funds.

  • Schedule investigative hearings on both as time critical priorities.

Sadly, as we feared, we got not a single word of acknowledgement or interest from any of the parties to which it was sent.  This ignited a slow burn in various elements of our essence,  and stimulated further thought on the Royal Juction Siding Project in particular.  The more we reflected on it, the more convinced we became that its need is a misrepresentation, and building it is a waste of taxpayer dollars and abuse of the public trust.  The only justification, as we could see it, is as a quid-pro-quo for Pan Am Railways, which owns the track in question, and would be the builder of the project.

So we drafted an addendum to the original memo and submitted it on 26 January to the same folks in Augusta.  You can read it here:


Here’s a few excerpts on this item:

To: Chairs and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation

cc: Governor's Office (Governor; Lusk; Libby)

MDOT (Commissioner; Nass; Moulton; Hayes)

Government Oversight Committee; OPEGA

Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs

From: Pem Schaeffer

Brunswick, Maine



Date: January 26, 2018

Subject: The Case for Halting NNEPRA's $10 Million Royal Junction Siding Project

(An Addendum to “Call for immediate investigation into NNEPRA management failings” dated December 10, 2017)


Executive Summary:

This addendum further examines the details of NNEPRA's proposed Royal Junction Siding Project, now underway at a cost of nearly $10 million. Justification on the basis of railroad operations is demonstrably unconvincing. The only credible barrier to Downeaster service expansion is Pan Am Railway's limit of six daily slots on their tracks between Portland and Brunswick when ten slots would be necessary. Since Pan Am will be doing all the project work, and is the owner of all related trackage, it is entirely possible that the $10 million is a quid-pro-quo for granting four more daily slots.

The Royal Junction Siding Project should be ordered stopped immediately, pending detailed investigation of all relevant facts by the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation, and other directly responsible State Government parties.

And the conclusion:


Careful examination of the arguments for construction of the Royal Junction Siding with $10 million of taxpayer funds shows reliance on impossibly precise timing of train co-positioning which is at best highly improbable, and at worst implausible. Train operations are manifestly not a rational limitation on Downeaster service expansion to 5 daily round trips to Brunswick, as insensible as it is. Instead, the only plausible explanation is the need for Pan Am to increase Downeaster daily slots on the Portland to Brunswick track segment from 6 to 10.

This leaves only the possibility that the proposal masks a consideration to Pan Am Railways, both in capital improvement and millions of dollars in make work activity, for increasing allotted slots. A quid-pro-quo to be quite blunt. It is not the purpose of NNEPRA, and not in the interest of state and federal taxpayers, to fund such gratuitous transfers.

Conclusion: The State's Legislature and Executive Branch should immediately call a stop to Royal Junction Siding work, pending a detailed investigation of the project including railroad peer review.

This drew exactly the same response from Augusta officials as the original memo….crickets.


So you can chalk one up for the dedicated public servants in Augusta; they’ve managed yet again to organize an Ignorathon when confronted with pretty hard evidence of a flagrant abuse of taxpayers.

It’s even worse when you consider the underlying realities.  This project is being conducted by NNEPRA, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which was created by statute as a virtually autonomous instrumentality of State Government.  In this regard, it operates much like the Maine Turnpike Authority, and the Maine State Housing Authority.  It has a Board of Directors to whom the governor makes nominations, and then it's up to the Senate to confirm them.

The statutory language is found in MRSA Title 23, Chapter 621.

We are not aware of any regular bills that move through the Legislature to fund projects like this.  Frankly, NNEPRA acts as un-monitored and with as little oversight as possible.  History shows the board to be a rubber stamp operation.  Two of the 7 members are ex-officio: MDOT and DECD.

NNEPRA built the $15million plus Layover Facility in Brunswick in recent years, and we’re not aware of any direct legislation that gave them the OK to do that.  We are even more certain that no legislative committee, or the Executive Branch, reviewed the project and approved it.  The same is true for the Royal Junction Siding Project, which is being built without any direct approval or oversight by anyone that we know of.

NNEPRA operates at a deficit of more than 50% annually, requiring more than $11 million in subsidies in FY 2017.  About $8M of that comes from federal sources, and the rest from the state.  The Royal Siding Project has roughly the same split.

Note that neither New Hampshire or Massachusetts contributes anything towards the operating deficit, even though nearly half of the ridership totals takes place south of Maine’s border.


So there you have it, fun seekers.  Endless deficit spending so a relatively few foamers can get their jollies on a train while untold thousands give of their dollars to pay more than half their fare, and all of their related capital projects.

Is this a great country and great state or what?

Reckless and unconcerned when it comes to spending OPM, but what else can you do when you are elected to serve?  Saying NO is a sure path to political oblivion.

We don’t know what we’ll do next to wake up at least one or two folks who might take interest in the subject, but we’re going to do all we can to rattle cages; you can count on that.

It ain’t much, but it’s all we got….


Andy was famous, of course, for the likes of this:


He’s gone now, but if he were still here, and happened to visit the Big Top Deli, Side’s 20 years and counting favorite lunch spot, he might be inspired by an item on their recently revised menu boards.  It may take you a while to see it, or you may never see it.  But try.

         Big Top Menu a

Sorry for the glare; it comes from the copious flourescent lighting overhead.

Andy could always start with something like this, generic as it is:


The real thing, however, eclipses this in every regard.  We happen to think the BTD has the bestest hot dogs around.  The rolls are exceptional, as are the dogs themselves, and the overall prep and friendly service elevate the whole experience even more.  Not to mention the chips and pickle you get with them.

You can trust us on this; we’re not like all the others.  Especially now that our 15 minutes are over.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Are you one of Eddie Beem’s “white trash Americans?”


If you read the Forecaster, you likely know who Eddie Beem is, or as he likes to be called, Edgar Allen Beem.  He’s their “featured” opinion writer, regularly proclaiming his moral, intellectual, cultural, and overall superiority compared to the rest of us.  He’s not above btragging of how much praise he gets from ordinary people as he makes his way through his extraordinary life.  Like many journalists, he is convinced his “work” is more noble and profound than those of lesser souls.

We frequently joust with Eddie on the comment threads for his columns, and we seem to have a knack for getting his shorts twisted around his neck, causing him to unleash all sorts of uncivilized names at us, and others, when we challenge his thoughts and expression.  We’ve lost track of how many times he’s sworn he would never again respond to our comments, but it doesn’t really matter.  All we have to do is chase his goat around his “journalistic” corral, and sure enough he’ll take the bait and break his promise anew.

Governor LePage and President Trump are particular burrs in Eddie’s tongue, and he can take a column on donuts and somehow find a way to turn it into tirades against either or both.  Over the years, Side has come to believe that his bouts of LDS and TDS have done permanent damage to his coping skills, and his behavior has suffered as a result.

Last week, The Forecaster carried an item of his dated January 29th called “Maine goes to pot.”

In the process of responding to comments posted, he pretty much lost control of his senses, stating that “99% of Trump voters are white trash Americans,” suggesting they were violent cretins who would get their just desserts in the upcoming mid-term elections and beyond.  The Forecaster moderator quickly removed Eddie’s shrill vulgarities, realizing they were not in keeping with the lofty standards of their pages.  Therefore, we can’t recover Eddies full exact words.  Nor could we recover them on his Disqus profile page, since he has it set at “private,” which is probably a good thing for him, since the archive would portray the troubled soul of a self-absorbed yet completely self-unaware opinion writer still seeking the validation of all he encounters.

You can find the comment string here: http://www.theforecaster.net/the-universal-notebook-maine-goes-to-pot/, and our comments are posted as “poppypapa.”  Furthermore, our Disgus account is available for public perusal.

You’ll note that two comments were deleted in the string; both of those were Eddie’s.  You can tell from the comments of others just how snotty and snooty he got in his remarks.  Here’s a clip cited in someone else’s post:

"I'm afraid there is no other way to describe Trump followers, 99% of whom are ignorant, prejudiced, evangelical, gun nuts, white nationalists and rednecks."

The comment that “99% of Trump voters are white trash Americans” seemed to us beyond anything we’ve seen from Eddie in his saner days.  Especially since it encompasses the Sides, mumerous family members, and scores and scores of friends and acquaintances.  Not to mention tens of millions of American voters.

So we quickly dashed off a letter to the editor of The Forecaster, reading as shown:

I've been jousting with Ed Beem in the comment strings for his opinion columns for many years, enjoying the fever pitch he rises to when challenged in any way, no matter how civilly.

I've always been surprised, and often shocked, by how someone who considers himself a shining example of humanity's best and brightest, compared to most of his readers, can stoop to the very lowest in name-calling and demonization when readers challenge his thoughts, and often, even when they don't.  His devout hatred of anyone to the right of center, and major elected officials for whom he did not vote, clearly brings out the inner contempt and incivility masked by that avuncular head shot at the top of each column.

In a comment on his recent item on going to pot, Ed lashed out at Trump voters by calling them "white trash Americans."  He went further in related posts, asserting that "99% of Trump voters are white trash Americans," and went even further in labeling them with assorted disgraceful terms.

I don't know what percentage of Forecaster readers and advertisers voted for Trump, but I can assure you that there are many more than Eddie might think.  While we don't pay for our copy of the Forecaster, I'd think the editors might be a bit more sensitive to the "diversity" of their readership and ad-buyers.

Eddie clearly doesn't believe in diversity, especially when it comes to opposing those candidates he reveres, no matter who he might offend on your pages in the process.

Maybe Eddie needs a "time out."  Might I suggest one with a TBD end date?

Pem Schaeffer


The Editor not only didn’t publish the letter,  he didn’t even acknowledge it’s receipt.  And Eddie is right back on their pages this week with one of his psuedo-elite-intellectual thought pieces on “the arts,” which he considers one of his greatest strengths.  Not a single mention of his excursions on the unhinged axis the week before, clear as they were for a few revealing moments.

We do note this line in the current item, however:

Maybe I’ve been sensitive to endings lately because at 68 I am making preparations for retirement, developing an investment strategy, getting a will in order, making arrangements for health insurance, long-term care and lugubrious stuff like that.

We humbly suggest that waiting until you are about to retire at 68 is just a touch late to work on an investment strategy.

What we really want to know is whether the editors might have decided that Eddie finally crossed their “line in the sand,” and was told to craft a soft exit for himself in the words of his beloved weekly thought selfies.

In which case, we have to wonder how local groupies will survive without him. 

And where those readers who are not white trash will find validation of their own without him.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Another vocabulary lesson, hidden in primal screams.


OK, here’s a test for you: spell the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  Even though the sound of it might well be called atrocious.

Did you get it right?  Our memory says it was introduced to us in the movie Mary Poppiins.

How about this one: antidisestablishmentarianism?  A bit shorter, we think, than Mary’s melodic tongue twister, and we’re not sure where it surfaced in the public realm.

Aha…we just looked it up, and it popped into view in the 1950’s on a TV show called “The $64,000 Question.”  Those are the really early TV days.

The word we’re coming to you with here is nowhere near as long as those two memory floggers, but it has actual relevance to the civic cultural vortex we currently find ourselves spinning around in.

The word is….


Say that ten times fast with a mouth full of rinse and see how you do.

We discovered the word in a recent magazine article.



Here are the opening paragraphs:

Just when it seemed as if the election of Donald Trump had rendered his supporters incoherent with triumphalism and his detractors incoherent with rage—thereby dumbing-down political conversation for a long time to come—something different and more interesting happened. A genuine debate has sprung up among liberals and progressives about the subject of the hour: identity politics.

Jump-started by a short manifesto called The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics by Columbia University professor Mark Lilla, it’s a conversation worth following for reasons beyond partisanship. As in his New York Times essay published 10 days after Trump’s electoral victory, Lilla’s purpose in this broadside is two-fold: to excoriate identity politics, sometimes called “identity liberalism,” and to convince his “fellow liberals that their current way of looking at the country, speaking to it, teaching the young, and engaging in practical politics has been misguided and counterproductive.”

We won’t kid you; it’s a fairly long and semi-academic article, but we found it most illuminating.  And we sincerely hope you’ll take the time to read it.


It has some very memorable insights, and clarifies the unifying elements in what we see going on everywhere these days, including right here in our little corner of the world, and at sedate little colleges like Bowdoin, tucked away as they are in innocent locations like Brunswick.

We found it really instructive, and intend to read it again, and probably again after that.  Somehow, knowing the worst can be “liberating,” if you’ll exuse our flight of fancy.

You’ll find the entire article here: http://www.weeklystandard.com/article/2010234


Don’t forget to commit the correct spelling to memory.  Like the Readers Digest used to say, “use a word three times, and it’s yours.”

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Somebody make us stop…please!!!


Impulsive member of the chatting class that Side is, we just sent off another memo to our elected and appointed town leaders, and our print media contacts.  The subject is the Workshop pictured above held on 14 November.

Before we post it for you, we wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, with the best ever feast of whatever sort you prefer, and good health to enjoy it in.



I just sent off the item below to the Town Council, TM, and the local print media.  Dave - thanks for helping me clarify my thinking, and I hope I didn't mess up too bad.  I'm sure what I included was way too much of any of our leaders to understand and "reason together" on, but it's now off my chest.

Happy Thanksgiving all...




I have had more thoughts and discussions re the 14 November "workshop" you held with rail officials, and the details associated with their answers and the "next steps" mentioned and briefly discussed.

Along the way I had discussions, both by phone and email, with a retired railroad professional known to us, and who is familiar with the situation in Brunswick.  His background includes a Bachelor's degree from Cornell, and over 40 years total in various levels of railroad management.  He was the superintendent of Maine Central Railroad for 10 years.  He was a qualified locomotive engineer for nearly 30 years.  And he spent nearly 15 years as the Superintendent of Operations, Safety, and Security for Virginia Railway Express, a passenger railroad with a route of roughly 90 miles running between downstate Virginia and Washington DC.  Their ridership exceeds 4 million per year, more than 8 times the ridership of the Downeaster.

For a number of years, he oversaw VRE's contracts with Amtrak for train sets and their operation. VRE eventually changed train providers.  So this professional is well aware of how Amtrak performs, behaves, and operates. It's clear this gentleman has real life railroad experience well beyond anything present at NNEPRA.

Specific comments:

1)  It was stated at the Workshop of 14 November that the Cedar Street wye is used at times to turn trains around.  Clearly, this requires operating switches for the wye, and grade crossings at Cedar Street, where there are no crossing gates.  Also, the train would have to cross Pleasant Street, where there also are no crossing gates.  So the whole safety issue emphasized by the Amtrak rep is especially significant when it comes to these unprotected in town crossings, and should require numerous additional horn soundings.

2)  Per the failure to make use of MLF east end access doors and related ladder tracks, the Pan Am rep at the workshop mentioned that all it would take is "an interlock" on the east end to resolve the problem, and that should be done in a month or so.  From this premise, one immediately must focus on the overall responsibility of Patricia Quinn and NNEPRA for all things Downeaster and MLF.

a) Apparently, this is not a problem at the West End, which has no interlock on the ladder tracks, yet the West End access is regularly used.

b) Was the design of the east end switching and ladder tracks deficient?  Should they have known before starting construction that an interlock would be required?  Or was it called for by the design documents, but not included in the contract, or if it was, not complied with, and just discovered now, a year later, after the issue surfaced in public?  Anyway you look at it, Ms. Quinn, as the ED of NNEPRA, had the helm on all aspects: design, contracts, construction, and compliance inspection of the finished project.  So the buck stops at her desk for this deficiency, regardless.

c) Some suspicion exists that the ladder track configuration on the east end is incompatible with Downeaster passenger cars design, which are very long, and that the radii and turning rates of the ladder array are outside the accepted range. This buck would also stop at NNEPRA, since she was responsible for seeing to it that competent designers were employed, that they had access to all necessary design parameters for the train sets, and that a fit for use design was constructed, inspected, and tested for acceptance.  The only way to dismiss this suspicion is for a train set to immediately test the switching array that routes it to each of the 3 east end doors.

d) The professional referred to above has vast experience with railroad crews and how they use their personal "judgment" to "simplify" their operations.  I won't bore you with the specific details he related, but he walked me through the differences between using the two different ends of the facility.  The train sets are over 400 ft long, depending on configuration, and who has to get off and change over a manual switch depends on what the operation is and which way the train is headed.  The colder or nastier the weather, and the more switch freezing that might have occurred, and the natural tendency of crews, the "human nature" element, if you will, is to make the job as easy as possible if the same final result is achieved.  Even if more movements, crossings, and horn blasts are required.

e) Especially if no formal, detailed operating procedures for the facility and related train movements are in place and enforced.  Other than cafe personnel, it was confirmed that only Amtrak personnel man and operate the MLF and the trains.  So once again, if the operation is not as NNEPRA planned and anticipated, Ms. Quinn has the buck on her desk.  Perhaps affordable video surveillance cameras, linked to NNEPRA  headquarters, or broadcast on their web site, would be helpful in this regard.  It would also foster a sense of participatory oversight for local residents.

Long story short, in my view, the show of participation at the Workshop last week was the opposite of what it should have been.  Ms. Quinn should have been the focus of all questions, and she should have called upon Pan Am or Amtrak personnel as appropriate.  FRA is the overarching regulatory agency, but has no responsibility for Downeaster operations in any sense.

It should be clear that it will be impossible to reach acceptable resolution for the numerous issues afflicting Downeaster presence in Brunswick, which will only increase if the Rockland extension moves forward, unless a single point of responsibility steps up for the entire enterprise.  And we must not forget the expansion to five daily round trips, independent of the Rockland extension, which just tow short years ago, was categorically outside the planning vision.

Years of experience show that Ms. Quinn/NNEPRA will avoid doing so to the extent possible, and if pressed to step up, lacks the necessary real life railroad experience to get things right. Further, she has a record of obfuscation, misrepresentation, and promises unkept.

In summary, Brunswick now has itself on the horns of a dilemma, and things, as I said in prior writings, are only going to get worse.

As the old saying goes, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.  I'm not aware of any official, elected or otherwise, willing to say the town made a huge mistake. 

But at least one was willing to publicly say "shame on Brunswick," and I can only imagine how much private scolding was heaped on her for doing so.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Pem Schaeffer


And just for fun, a parting visual….


Cause when you come right down to it, the Workshop was kind of a “turkey,” wasn’t it?


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Friday, November 17, 2017

Funny smells and loose ends on the Downeaster Noise Workshop; somebody’s got to do the clean-up!

Let’s face it; if there’s anything you can be sure of, it’s that the local media won’t do any clean-up work!


OK; here are the details you need:

Meeting Video Replay: http://tv3hd.brunswickme.org/Cablecast/Public/Show.aspx?ChannelID=1&ShowID=3869

Quiet Zone Brochure handed out before the meeting: https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0889

FRA Quiet Zone Briefing given at the meeting: https://www.scribd.com/document/364670016/Quiet-Zone-Presentation-Brusnwick-ME-11-14-17


Last night, after another full day of reflecting on the Workshop of the night before, it seemed to us that some things didn’t smell right.  So we sent this message to town councilors and the Town Manager:


Upon reflection on the meeting itself, and after following up with a railroad professional, the following comments come to mind:

1)  In retrospect, the "no public comment" gag order was even more detrimental than it seemed at the time.  There was no opportunity to challenge answers given by the visitors, to ask follow-up questions, or otherwise dig into the first broad-brush comments given in response to the pre-listed questions.

2)  Patricia Quinn, ED of NNEPRA, was largely silent for the workshop, other than platitudes about working with Amtrak and the TM.  This makes it easy to forget that the State of Maine operates the Downeaster, and that this statutory responsibility and authority is vested in NNEPRA, which she heads.  In this regard, Amtrak and Pan Am are subcontractors to NNEPRA, which buys their services through agreements with each, plus MBTA.  NNEPRA and Ms. Quinn are the direct customer for their services, and she is responsible for oversight of their efforts on NNEPRA's behalf, for seeing that all written obligations are met, and that when issues arise that are not included in the agreements, to see to their resolution and provide assurance to the State, and the host communities, that open deficiencies and complaints are being effectively dispositioned.

3)  NNEPRA has ownership of every aspect of the MLF.  They worked the permitting and approval process from start to finish, with the help of consulting contractors managed by and paid for by the Authority.  NNEPRA was and is the Program Manager and General Contractor for the overall project, including site selection, environmental approval, selection and hiring of subs, design, construction, and acceptance and commissioning.  While Amtrak may staff the MLF, and Pan Am may have tasking associated with the facility, both do so as subcontractors to NNEPRA, with written agreements that should govern these roles and consideration in return.  In other words, "the buck stops at Ms. Quinn's desk" on all matters regarding the MLF and the Downeaster's presence in our community.  She should have been the one summing up by demonstrating the leadership and stewardship to follow up on all Downeaster related tasking that was talked about last night.

4)  I expect that none of the visitors that attended the meeting last night will be at the upcoming Council meeting on November 20th.  So while residents may be permitted to speak in follow-up to last night's meeting, that option will be wholly unsatisfying because other than town officials saying they will pass the concerns and comments along, there will be no meaningful representation of NNEPRA's role in this entire evolution.  So the meeting will of necessity be an anti-climatic, largely symbolic event.

5)  Upon further investigation, it's possible the Pan Am rep sluffed off the east-end operating question with her mention of need to add "interlocks" at the east end.  I contacted a railroad professional to find out what this term means in railroading parlance.  As I understand it, interlocks will add electronics and signaling to the existing switches, but will have nothing to do with the actual placement and physical characteristics of the switches and the related track.  Her comment infers that such interlocks were part of the design and construction for the west end access to the building, but not for the east end.  Which sounds like an obvious management deficiency.  If east end interlocks were included, but not installed before the building was put into service, either Pan Am was not held to their obligations, and/or overall stewardship of the Project was again deficient.  It might be prudent to ask NNEPRA to test east end access geometry by demonstrating entry and exit of a train set from all three east end doors all the way to the Cedar Street wye area. 

6)  Many of the switches used for MLF operations, and other Brunswick train movements, including the Cedar Street wye, require manual switching by Amtrak personnel.  I understand this is a substantial physical task, and switch mechanisms have to be cleared of snow and ice in winter conditions.  Given "more than one way to skin a cat," railroad personnel have historically been known to minimize their "skinning" work by taking the path of least resistance, if you will.  The MLF is a facility ripe for such minimalist operations.  Amtrak staffs the facility, with no regular presence by NNEPRA or Pan Am.  Accordingly, the staff that runs the place is free to do things as they see fit, and if that includes using only one end of the facility for access, who is to challenge them?  In other words, the lack of use of the east end access may not be as the Pan Am rep stated, and no one else at the meeting was likely to challenge that answer.  It's not out of the question to think they may have planned it that way before the meeting.  Again, test runs to demonstrate east end access geometry and mechanicals worthiness seems like a good call.

In conclusion, I believe there is a lot of snow to be plowed on this challenging situation.  I was not encouraged by anything I heard last night, and as I said in a post afterwards,  the bottom line is that Brunswick needs to just "suck it up," and that things are going to get worse instead of better.  More round trips and summer extensions to Rockland that bring the East Side of Brunswick into play ensure that, it would seem.


Pem Schaeffer



There was another odd aroma that came across the room well into the meeting.  We noticed it around the time that “M. William Hollister” of Amtrak got on his soapbox for a few moments, in keeping with the format of his moniker.

He implored us to keep in mind that Amtrak and the Downeaster are all about “economic development,” and that “communities all over the northeast are pleading to have the same benefits as we do,” or words to that effect.

We respectfully take issue with that assertion, M. William, and we refer you to this briefing given to a number of state executives two years ago in the state capital.  Included were the Governor, the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, Ms. Quinn of NNEPRA, and several other state officials and passenger rail advocates:


You can find this presentation here: https://www.scribd.com/document/284589130/PRAC-PDF-Briefing-13-October-15 

We assert that the information and evaluation contained in the briefing is, if anything, more relevant than it was then, as the promises and projections of economic benefits from the Downeaster have continued to fall astoundingly flat on their face.  Or, if you like, their butts.


M. William also praised the carbon footprint savings of the Downeaster as compared to driving personal vehicles.  We take issue with that claim as well, especially when one considers that the engines pulling the Downeaster are old and creaky, and are grandfathered out of contemporary standards for diesel emissions.  Add to that the fact that in particular, the average train coming into and leaving Brunswick carries no more than a half busload of passengers, and you have an extremely hollow claim.  Today’s motor coaches (Concord, for example) are powered by 325 hp low sulfur diesel engines, while the Amtrak engines are powered by 4,250 hp high sulfur diesel fuel (old style).

Claims that the Downeaster is a net winner on a “per passenger mile” basis, as M. William put it, are readily shown to be wildly inaccurate on any basis, but especially when long idling periods and empty trains are taken into account.

For more informative reading, this document will open your eyes:


It was compiled and published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and you can find it here:



So, all in all, it looks like our prediction of a Dog and Pony Show was a pretty good call.  We’ve witnessed hundreds of them over our decades long career and retired life, and we have a “nose” for such things.  And for the bulls that sometimes come along to expand the content.

You should be grateful that Side allows you to escape the sensory delights of such events, and takes it upon himself to do the dirty work for you.  It’s about time you buy us lunch, don’t you think?