Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New business established in Brunswick; Construction Fiasco, Inc, submits $600,000 grant request to BDC


A Soupcon of Theory to Provide Context:

You may not be familiar with the history of ‘quality control’ as a means of ensuring that a product, whatever it may be, fulfills its intended purpose; is worthy of the producer; and is a joy to own and use.

In the early days, quality control discipline took place through inspections.  It began by inspecting/testing the product before delivery.  If problems were found, the product was sent back for corrections.  Eventually, inspection steps were inserted at various mid-points in the production process, so that corrections could be made before the defect was embedded deep within the final product, and possibly wasteful further production steps were made.

A ‘total quality revolution’ took place decades ago, and was the major impetus behind vast improvements in auto manufacturing, enabling Japanese auto builders to eventually leave traditional US auto manufacturers in the dust.

The fundamental principle involved in this transition was that you don’t inspect quality into a product, you build it in.  The focus changed from finding defects in the product with greater efficiency, to eliminating them in the first place by appropriate methods of defect elimination and process improvement.  Every phase of a product, from design engineering to materials purchase, came under the purview of this philosophy.  ‘Continuous measurable improvement,’ and wide use of metrics became standard management terminology.

Eventually, because they had no choice, US manufacturers got on board, and we think most would agree that cars produced in the last few decades are vastly superior in all regards to the vehicles we grew up with.  Quality of design, quality of manufacture, and quality of materials have all improved by leaps and bounds, and reliability and durability have increased as a result.


Exciting News to Report:

In a Press Release received at Other Side offices today, we learned that a new building contractor calling itself Construction Fiasco, Inc is setting up operations here in Brunswick.  It was recently founded by the Cheatham brothers, Howie and Dewey, shown in the photo above that accompanied the release.  Stimulated by the announcement, we contacted the principals to provide additional background for this report.

“We see Brunswick as an opportunity rich market for our specialized skill set,” Howie told us.  “We’re mindful of the stringent demands of the Brunswick community, and that’s why we’re diligently pursuing TRS Gold Level Certification,”  Dewey added.

“Traditional contractors have promised quality work to get a contract, and some have even gone so far as to have an on site ‘clerk of the works’ during construction to see that things are done right.  Our approach is unique; we come in after the job is done, the project has been delivered, and the building has been occupied.  We renovate quality in.  Others may think it’s too late, but it’s never too late to make things right.  That core principle drives every aspect of our business model,” said Katie Ann Ching, CFO of the new firm.

“She’s something, ain’t she?  Everyone calls her ‘K.A.’ around the office,” chimed in Howie.

“There’s no truth to the rumor that we may be affiliated with other local builders,” K.A. assured us.  John (Johnny Protocols) Richardson, she told us, backs up the claim, suggesting anyone who would say such a thing has a hidden political agenda.

We asked what the local business opportunities looked like to the firm, and Dewie gave us these examples.


“First, take The McLellan.  We see real opportunity here, with hidden quality problems and obscenely expensive to operate mechanical systems.”  He referred us to this background info on the building (

This three-story, multi-purpose building is home to Bowdoin College offices, conference rooms, computer training labs, art studios, photographic dark rooms and storage space. The building is fully air-conditioned and features high-efficiency windows throughout.

Challenges to construction included the presence of coal ash on the site, leftover from the days of steam locomotives. The team had to encapsulate the ash before construction could begin. Then, steel piles had to be driven into bedrock to support a foundation that included 118,000 pounds of steel reinforcement to ensure structural integrity.

Set in a predominantly residential neighborhood, the shingle and clapboard building, with its intricate window trim, blends in well with its surroundings. 

He sent us some photos that reveal the kind of ‘aftermarket’ opportunities Construction Fiasco will home in on.

      DSC_0114  DSC_0113

“You know the old saying about high-efficiency windows and intricate window trim… our CFO, K.A. Ching says, you can’t expect these things to last forevert, and just how long do you expect to be able to see through them?”

“Next,” he told us, “there’s the Cooks Corner Fire Station.”


“This building was designed to last,” Howie added, referring us to this descriptive info:

The challenges: This project was the result of a design competition, sponsored by the Town of Brunswick. Ouellet Associates stressed the importance of longevity—constructing a building that could serve the community into the next century. To meet these goals we selected durable building materials that will require minimal maintenance.

(We confess to being in a quandary as to what ‘into the next century’ might mean when you build a facility in 2005/2006, but why pick nits?)

One man’s longevity is another man’s opportunity we suppose.  Apparently some ‘anomalies’ have surfaced at the Fire Station, as described in this report:

“Besides fixing those problems, we think the kitchen could use some updating to make it show better, and it’s not up to date with the latest fire codes.  Besides, the color scheme doesn’t reflect the chicest decorating trends, and we think it’s important to keep staff morale as high as possible.  So we’re proposing a new palate to bring crew quarters into this decade.”

On Sept. 25, a large crowd gathered outside to celebrate the opening of Brunswick's new police station on the corner of Pleasant and Stanwood streets.

Dewie went further, adding “we’re proposing to be put on retainer to deal with problems at the new  Police Station, once the inevitable occurs.”

“We’re looking for a proven local business consultant and a prominent, connected attorney to help us set up the deal,” he noted.  “We’ll even pay to have our company logo added on Brunswick Taxi vehicles.”

The Cheathams cited missed opportunities in the past that drove them to conceive this opportunity based enterprise.  They mentioned the local Post Office, which has spent at least 6 months on front step repair and ramp replacement.  “We would gladly have spread that work out over a longer time frame…say a year….to allow local residents to become more familiar with our work.  And it would have given us more time to meet our new neighbors.”

They also emphasized the importance of making critical renovations before buildings are demolished.

“The Old High School got away from us; we were just a germ of an ideal when it went down.”

“But look at the lesson the town learned with the old Times Record Building.  They bought it for $1.3 million, and quickly realized it would need a good half a million in improvements before it could safely be torn down and the site cleaned up,” the Cheathams pointed out.

“Now the town wants to tear down the Jordan Acres School, but it’s in no condition to be safely demolished.  You can’t risk the health and welfare of your employees in a job like this.  We’re confident we can repair the major structural and cosmetic problems to ensure a safe and TRS certified building removal,” Howie said.

The brothers have their eyes on the Federal Street municipal campus as well.  The existing Rec Center and now vacated Town Hall are slated for the wrecking ball to make way for a new building to house CEI offices.


“We see it as a matter of community self-esteem to have both buildings in tip-top shape before they’re wiped from the earth.  Proper staging and curb appeal are ultra-important when undertaking such an operation in a historic down-town neighborhood.  The buildings deserve to be treated with respect, and the neighbors as well.  Letting go, closure, and all the other civic anxieties come into play.  Done right, we think it can be handled as a celebration of Brunswick’s Downtown vitality, complete with appropriate festivities.”

“As you can see, our plate is pretty full right at the git-go,” K.A. Ching said, “but we’re already incorporating HBS School, the High School, and Maine Street Station buildings into our long range strategic plan.  It’s only a matter of time before our kind of expertise becomes a necessity, and we want to partner with the community as closely as we can.”


“That’s why we’re busy pursuing an unfair advantage in these important community pursuits.  In matters like these, where civic identity and esteem is at stake, it’s important not to let the recklessness of the competitive free market distort priorities.”

The firm is using all the local influence available to them to push for a $600,000 initial grant from the Brunswick Development Corporation, well known venture capital source for those with the right connections.

“We promise that our use of those funds will provide local jobs, and the more we’re given, the more jobs we can create.  The sky’s the limit from what we can see,” the CFO reminded us.

Suddenly warm memories of MRRA creating 17,000 jobs at the old Naval Air Station came rushing back.

As we ended our conversation, the Cheathams told us they were thinking of “Construction Now, Quality Whenever” as their corporate motto.  “How do you like it,” they asked.

We allowed as how it certainly seemed to capture the essence of Brunswick, at least in one important area.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Of Pawns and Coming Clean: Reality, Conflicts & Other Priorities

We’ve been wandering in the thicket a bit since first coming up with the idea for this post, and it’s time to get back on track and get it off our list.  Our first working title had been “MLF EIS, etc: separating the wheat from the bloviation,” but we don’t need to tell you that we revised it.


You know us; we’re all about the details.   We like to keep the facts straight on things.  It’s one of the curses of growing up an engineer. 

So we’re following up on a few things from the town council meeting of Monday, April 7th, at which the subject of sending a town council letter to the FRA to request a full EIS was debated and voted upon, and went down to defeat at a vote of 4 supporting, 5 opposed.


Sending the motion down to defeat was as easy as “1-2-3”  you might say.

Along these lines, the other day we reported that unless councilor Johnny Protocols can hurl a rock more than a mile, his assertion that he lives ‘a stone’s throw from the tracks’ is so much Brunswick Sausage.  He admittedly has a reputation for slinging BS with the best of them, but we’re not buying it in this case.

A Conflict with Reality?

In his comments on the subject, first district councilor Dave Watson mentioned that “Congress has directed that the train is not to cross Maine Street,” thereby rendering MLF location at any Brunswick East location impossible.  This was the first we’d heard of such an edict from our benefactors in Washington.


So we followed up with this email to Councilor Watson (and the rest of the town council:)

At Monday night's town council meeting (April 7) you made a statement to the effect that Congress has limited the travel of the Downeaster to the west side of Maine Street; that by their direction, the train could not cross the street.

Please provide substantiation for that limitation.  An electronic copy of the document would be appreciated.

We sent it along last Friday.  As of this posting, we have heard nothing in response.  Perhaps Watson’s people are researching the issue and digging up the evidence.


At the same meeting, Ms. Emily Boocheever spoke in opposition to the requested letter.  Ms. Boochever, an officer of the court we understand (as are JP1 & JP2, along with council chair Pols), has been a devoted opponent to all things associated with the Brunswick West neighborhood centered around Bouchard Drive.


We take her to be a spokesperson for TrainRiders/Northeast, since she traveled to Augusta to strenuously object to the Governor’s nomination of Bob McEvoy to the NNEPRA Board of Directors.  While their Chairman, Saint Wayne, was there, he chose not to speak, allowing two members of the bar and one extra-planetary spokesman to do so in his stead.

Davis did not attend the council meeting on the 7th, nor did Patricia Quinn, ED of NNEPRA.  It’s our belief they were advised to stay away to avoid creating an adversarial atmosphere that might have swayed public sympathies.

At the council meeting, Boocheever used numeric figures to make her concerted case against the Brunswick West Neighborhood position.  We thought some of these were in error, and see it as our obligation to set things straight.  Some examples:

  • Emily asserts the proposed MLF has a footprint of 45,850 sq ft.  We don’t know where that figure comes from.  The original waiver request to the Zoning Board of Appeals proposed a building of 39,560 sq ft.  The building estimate grew to 65,000 sq ft, and was later revised to 55,000 sq ft.  The latest figure we’ve seen is approx 52,000 sq ft, from the engineering drawings associated with the storm water permit process..
  • Emily pointed out that a professional football field is 57,600 sq ft, and thus the MLF is 12,000 sq ft smaller in size.  At the moment, the building is just 5,000 sq ft smaller in footprint.

This is not the main point, however.  The football field analogy was first invoked to show that the building, at over 650 ft in length, is nearly as long as two football fields.  That’s the dimension that will project itself along the Bouchard Drive neighborhood, along with the height of nearly 40 ft.

However, the total project area for the MLF is approximately 371,000 sq ft, or the equivalent of more than 6 professional football fields.  You can see this footprint overlaid on the downtown Maine Street area here:

Pawns and Coming Clean


Our procrastination in getting this post published, as Chance would have it, provided another insight into Ms. Boochever’s place in the grand scheme of things.

It so happens that the Portland newspaper and the Coastal Journal ran a shared item yesterday (Friday, April 18) suggesting a conflict associated with the technical work done for and by the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, particularly regarding the sound measurements.

It’s well known the Portland paper is owned by billionaire hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman, husband of Congresswoman Rochelle Pingree.  What might not be so well known is that Ms. Boochever is a major player in Democrat Party politics, and along with the House of Sartoris, in recent months hosted a reception for Gubernatorial Candidate Mike Michaud, clearly the preferred candidate of the MaineToday Media empire owned by Sussman-Pingree. 

Since the article parallels the story line advanced by Boochever at the April 7th council meeting, we see dots connecting her and the published news item that likely go well beyond serendipity.  Any time you find dots connecting, you begin to suspect other dots could well appear if your eyes are open and your nose is open to things that don’t smell right.  We’re not there yet, but we’re being extra attentive.  There’s more than one person involved here who would be governor, so this isn’t beanbag.

As long as the reporter was detailed to explore the possibility of a conflict, others have asked why he didn’t look into the conflict represented by NNEPRA purchasing the Brunswick West property before their consultant was employed to do an analysis of possible locations for the MLF.  And another has observed:

The bias issue is now being raised by people who were opposed to the Town Council asking for an EIS.  If in fact the bias issue exists, what better way than an EIS to objectively resolve the issue?  

Here’s a tip for the reporter to pursue as long as he’s looking for ‘conflicts.’  How, why, and through whom did Brunswick Taxi end up with a lucrative long term contract to transport crews between the site and Portland twice a day all year round?  Why not pursue the details of that arrangement?

Or perhaps Ms. Boochever could show as much interest in that subject as she’s shown in Charlie Wallace’s filings with the Brunswick Planning Department.  She likes bringing ‘facts’ before the council relevant to the site selection process and an EIS; we suspect the Taxi contract is all that and more.


Shortly after the articles appeared, TrainRiders Northeast, the non-profit NNEPRA subsidiary and mouthpiece, commented on the articles with this note, which we’re certain was written by Saint Wayne:

How do your define 'conflict of interest?' The Portland Press Herald reports that the West Brunswick engineer who determined that the proposed Downeaster Layover Facility would exceed federal noise regulations, quietly filed plans to build a 9-home subdivision next to the land. That's a clear financial 'conflict of interest.' Or, to put it another way, "Not in my backyard unless it's my subdivision."


We’re not sure what the difference is between ‘quietly filed plans,’ ‘noisily filed plans,’ or for that matter ‘ambient matching filed plans.’  You’d probably have to have a qualified noise measurement expert there at the moment of filing to document the actual levels.

The facts, regardless of any pawn’s characterization, are that Charles Wallace first complied with the full town planning process for his development proposal, including meetings with neighbors, in 2005.  That’s when the sketch plan was submitted, well before a Brunswick train run and MLF were contemplated by NNEPRA or TRN.

In fact, in an Environmental Assessment in 2009, associated with a $34.5 million stimulus grant, NNEPRA/TRN stated the MLF would remain in Portland. They then splintered the project and amended the FRA contract for another $3.4 million to install ‘ladder tracks’ in Brunswick to support moving the MLF to town.  They received a categorical exclusion for the track extension project, and then filed for additional grants for further track/siding/wye improvements and to construct the MLF.

Eventually, the Federal Railroad Authority recognized that project splintering had occurred, and required NNEPRA to prepare an EA before proceeding with the rail work and MLF construction.  So the history of the Downeaster extension to Brunswick has been one of NNEPRA trying to finagle their way out of full compliance with the NEPA Process and an EIS at every step along the way.  (We’ve appended the flow chart for the process at the end of this post.)

Diversions; eggs and chickens unsure of which came first; carts before horses; politically motivated pawns.  As we’ve suggested before, things worthy of a new musical.  But not civic responsibility and transparent governance.  Not that anyone cares at this point.

Wallace reports that he first announced and disclosed his inherent conflict at Senator Gerzofsky’s initial informational meeting in 2011; has stated his relationships openly at every public meeting; has affirmed his ownership interests in the acknowledgement page of his technical report; and showed the reporter involved here a copy of his disclosure statement at an interview for a prior article roughly a year ago.  All are verifiable.

Given all that has transpired to date, and the one-sidedness of the transparency and disclosures, it seems all the more appropriate to ask why NNEPRA and TRN are so opposed to the integrity an EIS would bring to the process.  And instead, are intent on seeding a friendly press with personal allegations that don’t hold water.



Amtrak MLF: reprising a Pols’ statement from 2011

We recalled the document we are about to present for you as we working on an upcoming post.


We first told you about it in this post, before the last election:

In that post, these words appeared:

Pols has submitted a partial response to the questions in this post.  For clarity, we’re going to repeat our questions, and follow them with his answers, which will be indented and displayed in red.  (We may have a parenthetical note or two mixed in.)

1. Do you think an Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility should be built at the Brunswick West location, adjacent to the Bouchard Drive neighborhood, and if so, why?

2. If not, where do you think it should be built?

Questions 1& 2. Attached is a copy of my remarks at a NNEPRA rail forum from August 2011. It was televised so I can't hide from what I said. Some of the info may be a little stale but I still believe what I said then, particularly with respect to Bouchard. I'm sure I could be convinced that the industrial park site is as good as Crooker. I haven't looked at that in close detail recently. In one sense I think building it in Brunswick at all is a bad move----they're just signaling this is the end-of-the-line. Will Amtrak want to extend north in 5 or 10 years without a new expensive, controversial layover facility at the new end-of-the-line? WHat will become our our fancy layover facility if the Downeaster runs to Rockland or Bangor?

Rumor has it the powers that be recruited a candidate to run against me in 2011 based on my having said this. But I got re-elected anyway.....

(Ed: the remarks Pols refers to can be found at the link below; we tried to embed the actual document here, but were unsuccessful.

We strongly urge you to read the document; it is extremely thoughtful, well-written, informative, wide-ranging, and dare we say, surprisingly blunt as well.  It captures the circumstances better than anything we’ve read, or written so far.  It’s almost enough to make you wish Pols was on the town council.  [That’s a ‘witty remark,’ for the humorless out there.])

3. Do  you believe the Amtrak train, all things considered, has provided an economic benefit to Brunswick?  Please explain your reasons for your position.

Question 3. Who knows? There's no objective data at all.

We were planning on simply referring to the document below in the upcoming post, but as we read it again this morning, we decided it gains relevance as things continue to unfold here in Perfect, and the politicking and posturing gets ever more conpolluted.


So we’re pasting it below in it’s entirely, and once again strongly urge you to read and reread it in light of recent events.  We remind you that the time stamp on this is August, 2011. (Please forgive the formatting challenge; it took us a while to get the thing embedded here.  If you wish to look at it on scribd instead, the link was provided above.)

Here it is:




Read it carefully, and see what jumps out at you.  What jumped out at us this morning was being reminded of the town’s direct involvement in and financial speculation in the Downeaster service.  Hell; public money is being used to pay $850 a week in rent for the Departure Center at the station.

Then on page 3, Pols clearly differentiates a comprehensive plan from zoning ordinances, specifically with reference to an MLF on the Crooker site being inconsistent with Brunswick’s comprehensive plan, while the Brunswick West site is not.  See the last several paragraphs on the last page, just above.

We commented on this last point exactly two weeks ago, when we posted these words:

Let’s move on to Page 12 of the Siting Report (Appendix B):

Brunswick East:  The undeveloped site is located with the Cook’s Corner Zoning District, which allows a mix of retail, office and residential uses. Industrial uses, such as the layover facility, are allowed only by special permit. The Cook’s Corner Master Plan establishes a vision for a mixed use commercial hub in this area, and Town staff has indicated that a layover facility would not be consistent with current zoning nor the vision established by the Comprehensive Plan and Master Plan.

(emphasis ours)

The passage comes from this post:


So for those who are into ‘conflict,’ there’s more than enough to go around.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

Why won’t the Press Herald run this comment?


Yesterday, an article ran in both the Portland Press Herald and the Coastal Journal asserting that a ‘conflict’ has emerged in the controversy over MLF location at Brunswick West.

We posted the following comment not once, but twice:

As long as the reporter is interested in digging into possible conflicts, why hasn't he looked at the conflict arising from NNEPRA purchase of the subject property BEFORE their paid consulting engineer was tasked to evaluate the location alternatives? Surprise, surprise...the paid engineer said the site they had already bought was the best choice.

And why doesn't he look into how and why Brunswick Taxi, owned by the family of the former town council chair (in office when the site was selected and purchased), has a lucrative contract to transport Amtrak crews back and forth to Portland twice a day, 7/365.

As to Wallace and his development plans, he filed his first papers with the town Planning Department in 2005, well before anyone had plans to bring the Downeaster to Brunswick and build an MLF in town, let alone at Brunswick West.
If you're going to report on conflicts, why not be all inclusive?

Apparently the editors find no ‘conflict’ in publishing such articles but removing reader comments that don’t say yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.  Perhaps they find our comment ‘profane,’ at least in the figurative sense.

You’ll even find it shown twice on our little-used Facebook page:

where it appeared automatically as a result of hitting the comment button on the Press Herald web site.

Which proves our point about it being taken down.  TWICE.

Thanks, Congresswoman Pingree, and your benefactor, for your support of free press principles.

Maybe Counselor Boochever will write them a letter of protest for removing our comment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Memo to Gina: Ostrich Opinion Objection


We’ve written in the past about ‘journalist’ Gina Hamilton, generally because of something she wrote in The Coastal Journal, which she headed some years ago.  You can read what we said here:

We just reread those items to remind ourselves what moved us to comment on her, and frankly, we’re impressed with how restrained we were in our comments.  She deserved far more in the way of a wire brushing if you think about her role at the CJ in those years.  No matter, it appears she got her just desserts.  Apropos that, one of the past items included this gem:

Its failings notwithstanding, there is much to be said in favor of journalism in that by giving us the opinion of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.
                                                        -Oscar Wilde

Gina, by her own accounting, has had a varied career, including these two positions:

  • adjunct physics and chemistry teacher; University of New England; taught physics and chemistry lab courses and occasional lecture sections
Given our recounting of her inability to deal with numerical facts with reasonable grasp, we can only say we’re more than astonished by the sloppy hiring practices of two local ‘institutions of higher learning,’ and in particular, an esteemed, very local, highly selective, small liberal arts college.

Al Diamon, a curmudgeonly media analyst if there ever was one, had this to say in July of last year about Gina and The Ostrich, where she now holds forth:

Bias? What bias? In early July, the Times Record, the afternoon daily in Brunswick, announced it had hired Gina Hamilton as a reporter covering Bath and Harpswell, as well as coordinating arts and entertainment news. Hamilton is the former editor of MaineToday Media’s weekly Coastal Journal, as well as the editor of the New Maine Times, a nonprofit website with a strong liberal bent. In addition, Hamilton writes a regular weekly opinion piece for both the Times Record and New Maine Times, which displays an obvious leaning to the left.

Nevertheless, Times Record managing editor Bob Mentzinger doesn’t have a problem with Hamilton’s dual roles, saying she’ll continue her column while adding reporting duties.

“There’s no overlap,” Mentzinger said. “She’s not opining on Bath and Harpswell .… There’s a pretty good firewall between what’s she’s opining about and what she’s reporting.”

Nor is Mentzinger concerned that readers will be confused by Hamilton’s shifting roles, saying they’ll have little trouble telling one from the other.

But will they?

To cite one possible conflict, New Maine Times has published several pieces critical of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to cut revenue sharing to municipalities such as Bath and Harpswell. While the Legislature reduced the size of those reductions, both towns will still feel some impact. Won’t readers wonder if Hamilton’s apparent opposition to those cuts in particular, and LePage in general, is somehow coloring her reporting? Isn’t there a danger this might reduce the newspaper’s credibility?

Hamilton says there’s no problem. “All of that stuff is economic analysis,” she said. “It’s not opinionated economic analysis. It just is what it is.”

Mentzinger may be comfortable with that explanation because he’s made the jump from journalism (city editor at the Kennebec Journal) to political advocacy (working on the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Cynthia Dill) back to journalism, seemingly without ethical qualms. Although I notice he doesn’t mention his gig with Dill on his LinkedIn page.

Probably an oversight.

We need to point out that Mentzinger was recently canned by The Ostrich. And that the Ostrich web page has a button for ‘Paul LePage,’ but not ‘Eliot Cutler’ or ‘Mike Michaud.’  So ‘coloring reporting’ and ‘credibility’ are lingua franca non-grata at the local rag.

         Times Record LePage Tab                        

Demonstrating their commitment to staffing excellence, whoever owns/manages the Ostrich quickly promoted Hamilton from her lowly beat reporter stature to opinion page editor, where she spearheads the attitude formation mission of the so-called newspaper.  Given Mentzinger’s departure, she likely thinks she’s in the running for the Managing Editor post.  If you haven’t already cancelled your subscription with them, that should do it.


Carrying on for others, Gina continues the habit the old bird has of publishing editorials written by one who doesn’t even live in our perfect little community.

While she reminds un in many ways of former Opinion Editor Claire Bastien from the last century, at least Claire was a town resident.


Speaking of Gina’s opinery, this past Wednesday, April 9th, she ran an editorial entitled “The Train in Maine.”  We have a number of objections to what she wrote, not least of which is protecting wetlands over protecting established neighborhoods.  And a liberal dose of “it’s your own damn faults, you idiots.”

But rather than bore you with our usual diatribes, we have something different today.

Dennis Bailey, a consultant employed by the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, wrote back quickly to Gina with a direct and well articulated challenge to her editorial.  He’s given us permission to run it verbatim here, and we are, with gratitude.

To the best of our knowledge as of this moment, Gina has not responded, nor run Dennis’ item as a commentary.  Lucky for you, there’s another way to get the Other Side of the issue.  Dennis makes it pretty clear which statements of hers he’s responding to, so his work stands well on its own.  (If you want to read her original item, you’ll have to find it elsewhere.)

Here is Dennis Bailey’s memo:

Hi Gina,

I’d like to talk to you sometime about your recent editorial “The Train in Maine.” There seems to be a lot of information and facts that are either being ignored or misunderstood.

Perhaps the most egregious line in the story is near the end where you write that the Brunswick West neighborhood "had every reason to expect train facilities in their backyards.” Really? How?

If you check the records, you’ll find that all tracks except the Mainline, one relatively short freight rail siding and one very short spur were removed from the “Marshaling Yard” more than 25 years ago. All buildings were removed in the same time frame. Many years prior to that, passenger rail service had been discontinued and freight rail had severely diminished.

Only 550 carloads were carried on the line in 1983 compared to 3,300 in 1982 (this is from a Times Record article 7/24/85). With these kinds of facts, what any neighbor could reasonably expect is that trains were going the same way as the Dodo bird.

On top of that, the area in question was zoned by the town as a Mixed Use 2 Zoning District. The town, through it’s political process, had determined that large, industrial buildings are inconsistent with the Brunswick West location, which had been earmarked for mostly residential housing. The largest building permitted in this zone is 20,000 square feet, but as you know the proposed MLF is three times that size.

I don’t know if you’ve ever bought property, but I have, and one of the first things I do is to check the zoning and see what is permitted in the area. This usually gives me a relative sense of security knowing what I can expect to be built around me.

So to say that the neighbors “had every reason to expect train facilities in their backyards” means that they should have known that passenger rail service would be revived after it had long been discontinued, that NNEPRA would be created, that it would claim pre-emption status so it would not have to comply with local zoning laws, and that a huge industrial facility would someday be built in their backyard to service trains that didn’t exist at the time.

I know most of the members of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, and I haven’t met anyone yet with clairvoyance this keen. To say they should have expected a noisy, smelly industrial facility the length of two football fields on abandoned property outside their bedroom windows is like telling someone who moves next door to a gas station they should have known that an oil refinery would be built there someday.

There are other points in your editorial that display the same faulty logic. You summarily dismiss other possible locations for the facility, probably based on the consultant who was hired by NNEPRA to examine alternatives.

You should know that NNEPRA entered into an agreement to acquire the Brunswick West property BEFORE it engaged the consultant to do the analysis (this is well documented), which throws serious doubt over the report’s objectivity. The alternative sites have yet to receive a truly independent analysis (one of the reasons why a full environmental impact study is needed).

Also, your editorial suggests that the expansion and success of passenger rail service to and from Brunswick is somehow dependent on the construction of the MLF. Really? You should perhaps talk to people who work for AMTRAK (not NNEPRA). I have, current and former employees.

Many of them believe that Brunswick is the worst location for a facility of this type, for a variety of reasons that you may find interesting. It was originally planned for Portland but was moved to Brunswick for reasons we believe were mostly political. Seems odd that a facility that promises all the jobs and economic advantages that you claim would be unwanted in Maine's largest city.

What’s more, the success of passenger rail service is, or should be, dependent on ridership. Like any business, expansion should occur when demand warrants it. Have you looked at the actual ridership figures for the Brunswick line? Not the PR fluff that NNEPRA puts out but the actual daily and monthly ridership figures? We have, although it took a FOI request to get them.

What they show is that 90% of the time the train to and from Brunswick is below 10% capacity. 90% OF THE TIME. In other words, a train that can hold up to 300 passengers barely contains 30 on most days. Some days it’s even less. Some runs it’s none at all.

So explain to me: how will building a huge layover and maintenance facility for $12-$15 million in (mostly) federal funds to service these (mostly empty) trains expand the use of passenger rail service? How in the world will more people be convinced to utilize passenger rail service that they are not now using just because there is a gigantic layover facility nearby?

What’s the connection? I’m sorry, I don’t see one. And shouldn’t the justification for expanding passenger rail service and adding routes come AFTER the trains are unable to serve their current passengers? It certainly would in the private sector, but obviously a highly subsidized enterprise like AMTRAK operates under different rules.

Look, everyone loves trains. Who doesn’t? Even the members of BWNC love trains. They’ve got no beef with trains going by their house a few times per day. None at all. But having watched this issue unravel over the last year and seen the many serious and very legitimate concerns (for the community and the state, not just for the neighborhood) that have been raised and mostly ignored but the press, I’ve come to the conclusion that the news media have blinders on when it comes to passenger trains.

The usual skeptical scrutiny that the press gives most businesses is not applied to passenger rail and NNEPRA. Maybe reporters are just afraid of the facts, like they’ll be accused of killing Santa Claus. But I’ve known you to be an engaged and independent journalist, and I implore you to look beyond the spin that is being offered by NNEPRA and its advocates, and examine the real data and hard facts around this issue.

I’m happy to discuss this further at your convenience.

To which we say Bravo Zulu.  Which is probably why Ms Ostrich Opinion hasn’t bothered to respond.

If and when she does, we’ll let you know, but we wouldn't bet a Kuppa Kool-Aid on it.

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