Saturday, November 10, 2018

Maine Wire: The Full Alexandria

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The current widespread fascination with all things socialist was too much for us to ignore, so we couldn’t resist submitting this sardonic riff on the subject.  The Maine Wire was kind enough to publish it on their web site:

http://www.themainewire.com/2018/11/full-alexandria/

We worry that too many in this day may not take it in the manner intended, but will instead see it as an argument for their beloved social justice revolution.

Here’s an excerpt to tempt you:

For a hardcore, lifelong conservative like myself, the mere mention of socialism, or it’s drag persona—social democracy—is enough to send me to the bunker with a small batch bourbon. The celebration in recent years of Bernie Sanders, followed more recently by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Kirsten Gillibrand, Andrew Gillum, and innumerable others is a movie made in hell. Add hordes of gullible, supposedly well-educated millennials, and the nation seems on a collision course of voluntary self-destruction.

Yet as the winds of change continue blowing in my face, ably reported and abetted by the usual suspects, the widespread fascination of pre-senility adults and our newest generations with certifiably destructive ideology gave me pause. Could millions of newly minted voters be so wrong, and so easily led astray by those who’ve been around long enough to know better?

Enjoy; and we mean that in a troubled way.  There are all too many signs of the majority looking to repeat the doomed social failures of history.  Largely because no one tells them about it.  Postmodernism demands nothing less because of its core principle that there is no such thing as objective truth.

That pretty much trashes history and anything else that gets in the way of nirvana.  And reality.

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Friday, November 2, 2018

Where would we be without local journalism?

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“Journalism” is one of those charged words employed by any number of sources either in support or opposition.  Most often in our experience is the case where those working in various forms of media use the term in an attempt to elevate themselves above the little people who populate their audience.  They call themselves journalists to lend a certainty and loftiness to their efforts.

A perfect example in the local media mix is Edgar Allen Beem, the featured opinion journalist for The Forecaster.  Eddie has labeled himself a “journalist” innumerable times in his columns, which are in most cases nothing but personal screeds about the politics of the day, and in most cases, shrill and harshly partisan opinions at that. 

Recently he’s been drawn to weepy mourning over the incivility and partisan divides of our times, all while using language that only adds to the problem.  Calling “99% of Trump voters white trash Americans” is a classic example of how he reaches out to us all to calm the waters of political discord.

Which may explain why reader evaluations of his column have been increasingly negative in recent months.  Not only that, the comments posted by readers have lately been almost totally in opposition to his columns, as compared to past years where he drew upon a loyal cadre of adoring groupies to defend and praise anything he wrote, no matter how divisive, snotty, and condescending it was.

Which suits us just fine; we’ve jousted with him regularly, and driven him to fits of distraction and flights of incoherence in a number of cases.  In the process, we’ve amused ourselves no end.

Eddie often uses dictionary definitions of a term of interest to build his arguments on a given subject.  We thought we’d try the same by looking up the word journalism….and we found this:

journalism  (noun)

  1. the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.
  2. press1(def 31).
  3. a course of study preparing students for careers in reporting, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines.
  4. writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing: He calls himself a historian, but his books are mere journalism.

We find definitions 1 and 4 the most interesting.  Note the words news and superficial, and the absence of the word “opinion.”

Which brings us to another recent instance of “journalism” that caught our attention.  Our friends at The Ostrich use this graphic at the top of their web page and print editions.

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Based on our years of following them, we could and would take issue with all three terms in their self-aggrandizing self-labeling.  Calling yourself legitimate is revealing; it’s like a politician saying “you can trust me on this, because I’m not like all the others.”  When you come right down to it, just exactly what does the term “legitimate” mean in this context?  For that matter, what do the words local and journalism mean in the same context?

We cannot think of an instance in recent memory where TR reporting (journalism) goes beyond the level of parroting press releases and perhaps talking to a local source or two.  The concept of investigative reporting is completely foreign to them.  Their coverage is 3 inches deep and 2 feet wide.  They carry the party line of whoever and whatever they are covering.  And for those who pay attention, they clearly make their coverage choices based on the overall editorial slant of whomever controls the content.  Increasingly, of course, that is shared content with other media outlets in Maine, almost all of which are owned by a single individual.

Under the circumstances, expecting a broad and balanced view of the events that occur on a daily basis is a fool’s errand.  And given the skimpiness of the staffs at these outlets, expecting a look below the first level or two of the onion skin is similarly ill advised.

But couldn’t we at least expect a fairly high degree of language skills from those who claim to be “legitimate” in informing us with their “journalism” efforts?  One of the challenges of running a media operation, especially a print operation, is that you put yourself out there for examination, and in the process you expose yourself and the skill sets inherent in your leadership.

Let’s take a recent example.  Jon Crimmins, a local resident with an every other week slot on the opinion page of The Ostrich, had this column run:

https://www.timesrecord.com/articles/opinion/jonathan-crimmins-does-the-times-record-still-value-local-journalism/

It ran with this appendage from the editors:

Editor’s note:

We agree with Mr. Crimmins’ ascertation that “a diversity of thought is important.” We would further argue that since the paper’s acquisition by Reade Brower, we have been able to provide a greater diversity of local and state coverage, thanks to partnerships with not only the Portland Press Herald, but with the Kennebec Journal, The Forecaster, Coastal Journal and others. Our Local and Maine pages are more robust and carry far more indepth stories that, prior to the acquisition, were out of our reach. Rather than supplant our own stories, this sharing agreement supplements our coverage, while allowing our own, admittedly small staff to take deeper dives into the stories that matter most. Local journalism matters at The Times Record. It always will.

Aside from the “deeper dives” comment, we learned two things in this add on note.  First, we gained a new word for our vocabulary; we didn't realize Jon had ascertated anything in particular in this column.  On the other hand, maybe one of these days The Ostrich will acquire a spell checker....or a copy reader with a vocabulary.

Secondly, no one is in a position to ascertate the sentiment in the last two sentences.

In a nutshell, this brief little editorial note tells us more about the supposed professionals who manage the Times Record than they could ever have imagined.

And it pretty much blows the claims of “local. legitimate. journalism” right out of the shallow water they were doggy paddling in.

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Monday, October 1, 2018

Chance reports in…

Sometimes Chance has a way of providing a timely and entirely appropriate afterthought to our efforts.

Chance did so just now, dropping an email in our office inbox just moments after we published our latest post.  And here’s what it contained:

plunderbund

PRONUNCIATION:

(PLUN-duhr-buhnd)

MEANING:

noun: A group of political, business, and financial interests engaged in exploiting the public.

Seems more than apropos to us, but what do we know?

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“Freedom isn’t free,” it’s been said….

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Here we are, just trying to scrape the rust off our aged editorial body, and already we’ve run smack into the barricades of modern day news and information access.

As we noted in our post of Sept 11th, one of the items that captured our interest enough to comment was the recent awarding of taxpayer dollars to the Brunswick Executive Airport operation.  You can review that post here:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2018/09/back-in-cockpit-in-manner-of-speaking.html

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We ordered up a gallon jug of Geritol, and invigorated by its magical powers, we decided to do a little investigative reporting on the subject.  Doing so gave us a shot of adrenalin, and reminded us of the determination once a regular feature of our digging and reporting on your behalf.  As always, it’s abundantly clear that none of the local or regional “media outlets” has any interest in doing so. 

Frankly, we don’t think any of them even consider the idea; digging into stories that cry out for further investigation and reporting never occurs to them.  That would take work, initiative, and journalistic dedication.  Or at least what used to amount to responsible execution of First Amendment free press guarantees.  Not to mention that it would question the big government, free money status quo.

As you well know, we are not formally trained in such arts.  Which, we suspect, makes us the equal of most that write for our local sources.  Still, we exercised our curiosity by requesting relevant information via Freedom of Access statute, or what is generally referred to as “FOIA” provisions.

Our first missive was to Steve Levesque, Executive Director of MRRA, the Maine State agency responsible for redevelopment of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.  It reads as follows:

You are mentioned in today's TR article as follows:

"Last year, Levesque wrote in a Times Record op-ed that 31 resident aircraft owners were collectively paying $3,000 annually in excise taxes. At the time, Levesque had projected 18,000 air operations by year-end and a 10 percent annual growth in airport usage and fuel sales."

Please tell me how many air operations there were in 2017, and how many so far this year.  Exclusive of air shows, etc.

We posted this item to Levesque on 11 September, and have yet to receive a response of any sort.  “His people” may be working diligently to tally the air operations totals, but we have no way of knowing.  We believe that airports are required to keep logs of such operations, and at the worst, responding to our request would call for totaling daily counts.

Just for fun, the projected 18,000 air operations would yield an average of 49 per day.  We live within ear shot of the airport, and have a friend who lives close enough to the runway and aircraft pattern to hear each and every takeoff and landing.  Based on our “empirical” evidence, 49 operations per day is a bit much.  Actually, a lot much.

We expect you to be impressed, however, by the annual excise taxes paid by resident aircraft owners, averaging $97 each.   We own two motor vehicles, and our annual excise tax bill is significantly more than that.  While we’re sure the town is a far better place for that $3,000 in annual tax revenue, we fail to see how it offsets nearly $20 million in taxpayer subsidy to the airport…..so far, that is.

We are well aware that many in our local midst revile what they call “corporate welfare.”  We think it’s time they realize that this is exactly what these sums amount to.  To begin with, the operator of the airport is a private sector entity, and the aircraft are privately owned as well.  We believe that if the details of all $20 million in grants was exposed in detail, there’d be more than enough to cause gnashing of local teeth and wringing of local hands.  Unless, that is, the truth that corporate welfare for others is bad, but corporate welfare for us is wonderful.

On the same day (11 September,) we filed a request with the Office of Senator Susan Collins asking for documentation associated with the funding request, and the actual grant.  As of this writing, we have not received a single peep in response.

Just for good measure, we filed one more request…this time with the MRRA staffer designated as the Freedom of Information contact.  It read as follows:

I request documentation associated with this recent award:

BRUNSWICK

Brunswick Executive Airport will receive $6.2 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to build a new hangar, install fencing and make other improvements to the airport.

This would include applications and documented cost estimates for the proposed work to be done and the need, and documents associated with the award and details of what it covers.

I also request annual flight operation totals for the airport since it began operation.

We were gratified and encouraged by these prompt responses on 11 Sept:

Pem,  Thank you for your email.  I’ll email you when the documents are ready.  Would you like to receive an estimate of the cost beforehand?

Kathy

Pem,  Also, we will provide the information once we receive and execute the contract docs from the FAA, which should be fairly soon.

Best regards,

Kathy

We replied that same day as follows:

I only need an estimate if it's going to be beyond $20 or so.  I've forgotten what state law says.

Thanks,

Pem

Imagine our “surprise" when we received this response on 25 Sept:

Good morning.  We have compiled the documents you requested, 151MB total file size.   For determining the cost estimate, these documents add up to 2328 standard (8.5” x 11”) pages and 105 pages of plan drawings that are best viewed in large format (11” x 17” or larger). 

At $0.20 per sheet, that adds up to $486.60 for the printing.

So far time expended amounts to $130.00.  Additional time would be added for the time to print the documents.

How would you like to proceed?

Best regards,

Kathy

While we have yet to respond, it seems pretty clear MRRA has already obligated us to a minimum of $130, even though we said we’d like an estimate if the total cost was going to exceed $20.

We don’t even know where to begin with 2433 pages to document the funding request and the award.  Or the $486.60 for printing them.  You’d think a $6.2 million grant might have sufficient “contingency funds” to cover our request, but hey…they run tight budgets and tough ships in this game.

Right?

Here’s info on the relevant state law, found at https://www.maine.gov/foaa/faq/index.shtml:

Can an agency charge for public records?

There is no initial fee for submitting a FOAA request and agencies cannot charge an individual to inspect records unless the public record cannot be inspected without being compiled or converted. 1 M.R.S. § 408-A(8)(D) However, agencies can and normally do charge for copying records. Although the FOAA does not set standard copying rates, it permits agencies to charge "a reasonable fee to cover the cost of copying". 1 M.R.S. § 408-A(8)(A)

Agencies and officials may also charge fees for the time spent searching for, retrieving, compiling or redacting confidential information from the requested records. The FOAA authorizes agencies or officials to charge $15 per hour after the first hour of staff time per request. 1 M.R.S. § 408-A(8)(B) Where conversion of a record is necessary, the agency or official may also charge a fee to cover the actual cost of conversion. 1 M.R.S. § 408-A(8)(C)

The agency or official must prepare an estimate of the time and cost required to complete a request within a reasonable amount of time of receipt of the request. If the estimate is greater than $30, the agency or official must notify the requester before proceeding. The agency may request payment of the costs in advance if the estimated cost exceeds $100 or if the requester has previously failed to pay a fee properly assessed under the FOAA. 1 M.R.S. § 408-A(9), (10) P.L. 2013, ch. 350

So there you have it; the “state” of affairs in our latest effort to get to the bottom of a local story about the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars on top of previously spent millions of taxpayer dollars, with what in our amateur opinion is a suspiciously weak rationale.

In keeping with current cultural norms, we’re thinking of starting a Go Fund Me campaign to fund these expenses, and when it gets to $500,000 or so, we’ll be able to go ahead and pull the trigger on the story.

That’s a bit much, you say?  Not by governmental standards, we say.  After all, your correspondent pays more in local excise taxes per vehicle than the cited local aircraft owners!

         

And then there’s the cosmetic surgery required to make our forehead appear “normal.”

As a final thought, there’s this shot right between the eyes:

        

(note to local editors: replace “is done” in last sentence with “was once done.”)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Maine Wire: Is Referendax right for you?

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An item by your correspondent was published on the Maine Wire today; you can read it here:

http://www.themainewire.com/2018/09/doctor-referendax/

A passage or three to whet your appetite is shown below; enjoy.

Matt Gagnon did a superb job of “fisking” Edgar Allen Beem‘s recent Forecaster column attacking MHPC’s report on Maine’s referendum process.  The report details how the process has increasingly been used by out of state big money interests.  In his response, Matt clearly showed how intellectually bankrupt Beem is, and how perverted his journalistic principles are.  Ethics and integrity are the least of Beem’s concerns, and he shows his disrespect for Forecaster readers because of it.

Beem has “dined out” on his hatred of Gov. LePage and all things Republican, and since 2016, has added President Trump to his regular meals.  Without these two, it’s safe to say he’d be scratching in his front lawn for column subject matter.  Last year he went so far as to say “99% of Trump voters are white trash Americans.”

Surely you’ve seen the numerous pharmaceutical commercials on TV–they are more prominent than ever.  They’re filled with schmaltzy visuals of loving individuals romping through spring fields, or nuzzling at home, or enjoying time with friends, overlaid with fine print and voice overs about warnings and side effects, sometimes mentioning death as a possible outcome!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Back in the cockpit, in a manner of speaking….

       

Regular followers of Other Side know that we’ve rapidly transitioned in the last year or two from a more or less daily to weekly to monthly to quarterly posting schedule.  A number of things have caused this, not the least of which is age, and a sort of wearying of the enterprise and whatever obligations it imposes on us.  In the nine years this publication has existed, we’ve published more than 1200 items, and from time to time “broke” a story that might otherwise not have seen the light of day.  But you are no doubt of the “yeah, but what have you done for us lately?” persuasion.

Further, we’re more or less resigned to the fact that Brunswick governance, and the other regular targets of our analysis and insights, are essentially irredeemable, incorrigible, and completely immune to published commentary.  No matter how embarrassing it might be, at least by what use to be normal standards.  In so many words, most of what we’ve done here has been a complete waste of time. 

We’ve long been fond of banging our head against any nearby wall in order to retain a smidgeon of self-respect, even if some in elected office like to call us “Mr. Grumpy.”  That’s a darn sight better than being known as “Mr.  Pushover,” as we see it.

The last “excuse” we’ll offer is a 10 month old Springer Spaniel named Snoopy who is an attention junky.  He finds it difficult to allow us more than 10 or 15 minutes of reflection, let alone focused writing, at a time.  And he’s not particularly helpful when it comes to our desire for regular naps.

We should add that most of our posting over the years has been a matter of being compelled by some item in the news or a personal concern over the state of affairs.  We have rarely posted out of any sense of obligation.   In the last year or two, inspiration has been coming at a slower and slower pace.

Which brings us to the reason for this post.  Recent news has crossed the wires on three of our most favored targets for comment.  These are the abject looniness that is the Amtrak Downeaster, the truckloads of “corporate welfare” delivered to the former BNAS, and the profligate capital spending of Brunswick.

We’ve often referred to Brunswick as “the richest little town in America.”  The taxpayer spending on the Downeaster and the former Navy base makes it clear that we are the richest state and national governments in the world, even it if takes printing and borrowing funds to do so.  In so many words, we don’t think governments at any level give a flying fig how much they spend, because it’s not their money!  And they know that resistance is weak and futile.

To quote an oft cited truism, “nobody spends other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own.”

So dear readers, loyal or not, reality has finally stuck enough pins in our generous but curvaceous butt to get us back at the keyboard.  Whether or not this is a passing phase remains to be seen; we’ll simply see how the muse of irritation directs us.

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For purposes of the moment, we’re simply going to introduce the latest in appalling funding of capital work at Brunswick Landing, and in particular the so called Brunswick Executive Airport.  I was fuming as I read the article:

https://www.timesrecord.com/articles/front-page/airport-at-former-brunswick-naval-air-station-to-to-get-new-hangar-as-part-of-6-2-million-faa-package/

Brunswick Executive Airport will receive $6.2 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to build a new hangar, install fencing and make other improvements to the airport.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the chairwoman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, announced the funding through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, which sets aside funding for the Military Airport Program, on Monday.

“Brunswick Executive Airport is home to multiple aviation and aerospace companies and has been a major catalyst for the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station,” said Sen. Collins. “In addition to improving safety and making important infrastructure upgrades, this investment will help the airport continue to attract businesses and good-paying jobs to the region.”

The funding will be awarded as follows:

 $3,636,800 for the construction of a new hangar to accommodate general aviation aircraft;

 $1,029,445 to install perimeter fencing;

 $330,255 to repair utilities, and

 $1,219,320 to improve airport drainage

At this point, you’ve likely forgotten the post where we itemized the annual pork rations doled out to MRRA for airport enhancements.  You’ll find it here:

https://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2017/08/yes-brunswick-just-like-we-told.html

It lists nearly $13 million in grants for the “private airport.”  As of last summer.  With this latest barrel of lard, you can start using $20 million as a round number.  Which is irresponsible and obscene on so many levels, though the good Lord knows, as do we all, that the former BNAS has always been short on hangar space.

The full article contains other words that strain belief, especially if you compare details given in the cited Other Side post.

We’ve decided to defer any further comment until such time as we receive related information requested under FOIA/FOAA provisions.  We fully expect the information will get the juices flowing…and perhaps nearing the boiling point.

Those who examine the figures listed above, and who have any sense of perspective on such “improvements,” should already be fuming.  Any plans you had for taking your kids and grandkids swimming and fishing at the base lake will have to look elsewhere.  We assume the drainage work will eliminate it from the landscape.

When you come right down to it, is it any wonder that many of us just throw our arms up, and think in terms of tossing all the Washington careerists under the bus?  As we’ve said before, if this is what goes on in our little speck in the world, imagine the scale of things on a nationwide basis.

A trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.  Watch the mail for the bill for your share.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

ICYMI: BJHS Q&A event

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We became aware of this announcement through one of our field reporters.  The less we say about it the better, lest we be skewered as some sort of unhinged blogger, as a local columnist views us.  A conveyor of toxic masculinity… or some other fashionable label of our era.

We do think the community at large should be aware of such programming at our public schools, and the influence it has on school budgets, which is no doubt impossible to determine in detail.  We assume related activities take place at other schools in our system.

So here it is, direct from its source…the BJHS web site:

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If you were thinking that “Q&A” in the title referred to questions and answers, you would be wrong.  We’re assuming anyone with a sense of today’s culture can decode the Q.

If you don’t know what an Ally is, let’s just say it’s not a bank.  And you need to “get woke,” in contemporary SJW street language.

We won’t comment on the opportunities for shaming this week provides.  Let’s just say we’re reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer wouldn’t “wear the ribbon.”  The irony, of course, is that a program about inclusion can just as easily be one about exclusion, if you get our drift.

We have one other question.  Do you suppose there’s a 3R club that holds a pride week to celebrate the readin’, ritin’, and rithmatic they’ve mastered at BJHS?  With all the hoopla over the annual school budget, we can’t recall a single celebration of accomplishing the basic education mission assigned to our several schools and their staffs.

Maybe we need to “get woke” on such purposes.  How dare we hold on to such archaic expectations?

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Footnotes to the post on our PPH column

Some of you may be wondering about these passages in the column:

To request an immediate stop to the project, pending a detailed investigation and peer review, I personally contacted in writing all relevant legislative committees, the Governor’s Office, and MDOT leadership in January.

Not a single response or acknowledgment ensued.

Not a soul in the authority chain seems to give a damn about this.

The written contact referred to is this (in part:)

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You can find the entire document here:

https://www.scribd.com/document/376899444/Addendum-to-Ltr-to-JTrans-Com-Jan-2018

The previous memo to which this was an addendum is this (in part:)

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You can find this entire document here:

https://www.scribd.com/document/376899311/Ltr-to-JTransCom-on-NNEPRA-Dec-17

Just to be clear, not a single response ensued, from any of the numerous addressees to each document.  Hence the PPH op-ed.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Something smells fishy, and we think it’s coming from NNEPRA

You may have seen news earlier this year about NNEPRA adding to the Downeaster passenger rail service with summer weekend runs up the coast from Brunswick to Rockland.  Here’s one example:

https://www.coastaljournal.com/2018/01/31/wiscasset-gives-nod-amtrak/

The service is a pilot project dubbed the “Coastal Connection,” and would only run on weekends as a slower excursion designed for tourists stopping in Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle, and Rockland.

The plan, said NNERPA Executive Director Patricia Quinn, is to more fully utilize train sets already in use by the organization, minimizing the cost – about $200,000 – of the additional run.

A conservative estimate of potential ticket sales is around $100,000, Quinn added.

It didn’t take long before affected communities….Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle, and Rockland….were counting their chickens before they hatched, and looking for summer time infusions of free money from wild-spending tourists.

While the initial hype was that the new service would run ten weekends per year, it didn’t take long before plans were revised down to three weekends.

And then, before the chickens and free money hatched, the kibosh was put on the whole idea.  From  http://www.trainridersne.org/:

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http://bangordailynews.com/2018/03/27/business/report-passenger-rail-extension-to-rockland-canceled-for-2018/

Quinn has said the extension of the Downeaster service would utilize existing rail and train infrastructure. While the Maine Department of Transportation owns the 58 miles of tracks between Brunswick and Rockland, the Central Maine and Quebec Railway lease the tracks for carrying freight……..Amtrak will come back later this year to conduct the risk assessment on the Brunswick-Rockland line, she said.

Let’s cut to the chase with some succinct points in response to the specifics of this situation:

1) Patricia Quinn, ED of NNEPRA, is an employee of the State of Maine entrusted with managing operation of the Downeaster, and any other passenger rail service she can go out and sell to anyone who will listen and help find the funds to pay for it.   She clearly proposed seasonal weekend service to the communities along the Rockland Branch, getting them all worked up and salivating over the new economic riches that would come their way this summer.  Doing so before seeing to it that everything was in place to make these promises come true is a clear indication of how she prioritizes marketing far higher than managing the operation of the NNEPRA/Downeaster enterprise on behalf of citizens/taxpayers of Maine.

“The public support was overwhelming. There’s a lot of energy,” said Quinn. “I think it just showed there’s really a strong desire for such a service.”……..“We’re hopeful we can get the resources and the support that we need going forward such that we can offer a good service in 2019.”

2) Selling this service to the affected towns isn’t hard; there are always downtown association and chamber types who will rave about the possibility of incoming dollars for which they are convinced will be paid for with OPM.  They NEVER consider the downside, like economic suction from their communities to points more exciting down south, like Boston.

3) Quinn commented that she believed she could pay for the losses involved in any such new service out of existing operating accounts.  This is preposterous and laughable considering that the current Downeaster operation runs at an operating loss in the range of $10 million per year.  Apparently she has adopted the Federal Government’s approach towards overspending, deficits, and federal debt.  This should come as no surprise, since Amtrak, the provider of Downeaster Train Sets and Crews has operated at a substantial loss since its inception.  We believe it was created to fill the gap left by private passenger rail services going belly-up because they were not viable and sustainable.

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(Above extract is from a letter dated February 26, 2018 from the Commissioner of MDOT)

4) The State of Maine owns the Rockland Branch – the trackage upon which the summer excursion would operate.  Accordingly, NNEPRA did not have the bargaining options open to it that they do with Pan Am and the MBTA.  Quid-pro-quo arrangements with the State just aren’t an option.  We’re suspicious this is already a money-loser for the State, and hence their recent letter to NNEPRA and it’s Board stating they would not be providing any new funding to help initiate the Downeaster extension to Rockland.

5) We’re told by reliable sources that the Rockland Branch is in very good shape, and may be in better shape than much of the Downeaster route south of Brunswick.  Witness the plans for another major tie replacement this year, in the range of 15,000 to 20,000 ties total.  That should cause a major hit in service curtailments and on-time-performance.

6) NNEPRA’s proposal for this service claimed the 58 mile run would take two hours plus.  That’s an average of something under 30 miles an hour, which would make sense, since it would be a summertime excursion service, and sightseeing would be a substantial appeal, if not the only appeal.  This top speed requires far less in track bed quality than running at 70 miles an hour.  Furthermore, the Maine Eastern Railroad ran a nearly identical service between Brunswick and Rockland for several years, but gave it up because it was not economically viable.  But they are a private railroad, not a publicly operated one.  None-the-less, they didn’t seem to have any issues with track and bridge condition to operate their service.

7) Using the excuse that Amtrak is too backed up to get to route inspection in time to initiate the service this summer is a distraction of convenience.  The Rockland Branch gets very little use since the Maine Eastern service ended, and should not have deteriorated significantly since then.  As shown by the MDOT letter, the State is not willing to fund any remediation deemed necessary for the Downeaster runs.

Amtrak was unable to complete a risk assessment of the railroad from Brunswick to Rockland in time to launch the pilot program this summer, according to Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

“One of the caveats of moving forward with the service this summer was that Amtrak would be able to complete what they are calling a risk assessment of the railroad line,” she said Tuesday. “We were notified yesterday that due to some of their other priorities and other deadlines that they have, they’re not going to be able to complete that this spring in timely enough fashion for us to be able to get crew qualified and operate services this summer.”

8) Lastly, using Amtrak as the scapegoat for not beginning the service this summer is too cute by half.  Amtrak is way off there in the distance in the seat of our Nation’s government.  They are big scary federal officials, not easily accessible to the ladies of AAB or any other zealots for passenger rail.  Invoking them as the cause is tantamount to saying “it’s not us, it’s them, and there isn’t anything we can do about it.

  

All in all, this situation comes down to another indication of NNEPRA’s lack of expertise in the real details of railroading, program management, and execution.  Not to mention Ms. Quinn’s penchant (and TRNE’s as well) for selling the sizzle before she has any ideal how to buy, cook, and serve a steak.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Quick note on the PPH Opinion Column

If you’ve followed up on the post about our Maine Voices column that appears in today’s Portland paper, you should look at the comments too.

One includes a link to this article:  https://www.heritage.org/transportation/report/federal-transportation-programs-shortchange-motorists-update-usdot-study

Here’s how it begins; the chart is a real eye-opener:

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Falmouth throws down the gauntlet….

We’ve been musing on school budgets in the last few days, including showing you this chart that benchmarks Brunswick against a “cohort of peers.”

   

Now comes exciting news from Falmouth in the great race to the top of school spending.  A resident there we know sends data along stating that Falmouth is proposing to spend $36,905,000 in the coming school year to educate 2105 students.  That works out to $17,532 per student per year.

So you might say Falmouth has come a long way, baby, in just 3 years.  Increasing total spending by $4 Million, and per student spending by $2,000!  By any measure, that’s a dazzling pace of spending increase, paid for by you know who (in Falmouth.)

Weak and feeble Brunswick is only increasing spending over the same three years by a little over $2 million, with a per student increase of only $1,000 or so.  To be clear, Brunswick’s proposed spending for FY 18-19 is $38.9 Million, for per student spending of $16,500.  For another $2.4 million, we could match Falmouth per student figures.  But we’re too cheap, and we don’t care enough about the children.  (In reality, we’re not paying the teachers as highly, or shrinking class size enough.)

Oh, the shame!

You know, we just noticed another difference in the cohort numbers, which are sourced from the state.  Our data shows Brunswick had a school budget of $36.5 million in FY 15-16, netting out to $15,600 per student.

We suspect that the state’s DOE excludes transportation and debt service in their figures.  We don’t for obvious reasons.  It’s money taxpayers have to provide, and the Department spends to discharge its responsibilities.  This may mean that the figures cited above for Yarmouth in FY 15-16 are similarly modified.  The $36,905,000 provided by our contact is the TOTAL spending proposed.

But it’s clear as your property tax bill that Brunswick needs to hide in shame by comparison.

One more thing is obvious.  The state should stop adjusting total spending by the towns so the top line is clear.  And valuation figures should reflect taxable appraised valuation, not total valuation.  Then comparing figures might actually have some merit.

But no; that would mess things up by making them clearer, and we can’t have that in government conduct of our business, can we.

It’s more useful to our officials to keep us as mushrooms.  Even if in Falmouth they are all morels, compared to the Baby Bellas in Brunswick.

Side’s opinion published in the Portland Press Herald

For your amusement and edification:

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The entire item is here:  https://www.pressherald.com/2018/04/17/maine-voices-rail-authority-demonstrates-two-degrees-of-fraud-waste-and-abuse/

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