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: http://www.scribd.com/doc/219043312/Amtrak-MLF-Project-overlaid-on-Brunswick-s-Maine-Street-downtown-area.
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.