Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Situation Update on the Amtrak MLF

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We’re pleased to bring you this update on the circumstances surrounding NNEPRA’s plan to build an MLF adjacent to the Bouchard Drive neighborhood.  Close enough to smell, hear, feel, and see, and almost touch.  It’s based on work we’ve done for other purposes, so it may sound a bit stiff compared to normal Side stylistics, whatever the hell ‘normal’ means.

So as we sometimes say around here, cut us some slack, and grant us poetic license in this case.

If you need to review prior posts on the subject, you can do so here:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/search?q=Amtrak

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/search?q=MLF

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The circumstances surrounding the construction of an Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility (MLF) adjacent to an established, in town Brunswick residential neighborhood are reaching an irreversible and highly troubling stage.

The current plan threatens the domestic tranquility and property values of hundreds of Brunswick families, and precludes larger economic development opportunities that other locations would provide. If unchecked, the plan will be an environmental and socio-economic failure of major proportions.

In brief:

  • The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), created by Maine Statute, exhibits all the operational and accountability shortcomings that were exposed at The Maine State Housing Authority and The Maine Turnpike Authority following the most recent gubernatorial election.

    • Juxtaposed in the midst of municipal, state, and federal governments, NNEPRA is leveraging the confusion and muddled roles to avoid responsible oversight, and to effectively skirt around a number of established regulations and processes.

    • They have created a straw-man argument that unless the MLF is constructed as planned, in the in-town neighborhood, Amtrak Downeaster service to Freeport and Brunswick will necessarily die. Anxious locals, convinced that the Downeaster is a miracle of government investment, are circling the wagons to ensure this plan of record is not jeopardized by opposition of effected citizens and concerned others.

  • Notwithstanding the poor business case for Amtrak extension to Brunswick, and the doomsday narrative fabricated by NNEPRA, there is no compelling case, and there are no other imperatives to locate the MLF where currently planned.

    • The rationale put forth about 'historic use,' availability, cost, and proximity to the Brunswick passenger depot are largely untrue, easily countered, and completely devoid of singular merit.

    • Conversely, there is a compelling case for not locating the MLF in the Bouchard Drive neighborhood, and it is a socio-economic and environmental impact case of solid virtue.

    • If one accepts that the MLF should be in Brunswick, two available sites in east Brunswick merit serious consideration. Each is clearly superior to the current plan, and most importantly, offers multi-modal economic growth potential, lower overall cost and complexity, and substantially reduced environmental impact. Neither will disrupt the domestic tranquility of established residential neighborhoods in the heart of town.

  • In recent months, the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, through their attorney, has taken formal steps to address abuse and/or aberration of established processes at state and federal levels. The intent is to ensure that full and open disclosure of all relevant facts occurs, and that determination of the most just and effective course of action results. These steps include:

    • Filing of a formal request to the Federal Railroad Authority (FRA) to terminate the Environmental Assessment (EA) process and initiate the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process because of poor quality, mis-statements, and misrepresentations in the draft EA prepared by NNEPRA.

    • Submission of formal comments (several hundred pages including technical studies) on the final EA to NNEPRA and the FRA.

    • Filing of an 80C Civil Complaint in Cumberland County Superior Court challenging granting of a Stormwater Management Permit by the Maine DEP.

    • Submission of a formal letter of complaint to FRA Administrator Szabo summarizing EA flaws and withholding of vital information by NNEPRA during the review and comment period and the related public hearing.

  • To summarize, the current MLF siting proposal is not good for the town of Brunswick, the region, or the State of Maine, and there are clear and well-known alternatives that would be beneficial to all. Future growth of any sort is not feasible with the current plan. Ridership figures do not support claims that the MLF is driven by the need to expand service to/from Brunswick. Worst of all, the path taken by NNEPRA to arrive at this juncture is fraught with deficiencies, abuse of process, and withholding of crucial information.

In view of these realities, a full FRA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be required before current plans are implemented, irreversible damage is done, and greater benefits are lost forever. This normally mandatory step has been subverted by a highly flawed and much less demanding Environmental Assessment (EA) that was used to gain an earlier exemption from the FRA.

This assault on well established process is at the very heart of neighborhood opposition, and they have copious hard data to substantiate their case. Regrettably, both NNEPRA and Brunswick town officials have done everything in their power to keep this professionally collected and analyzed evidence from seeing the light of day in an open and public forum.

Additionally, all sources of funding to NNEPRA should be immediately frozen and remain suspended until rigorous and independent evaluation of alternate sites has been completed, and the highest and best use of Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds can be determined by the State.

NNEPRA monthly board meetings also need to be conducted with full adherence to applicable law, and greater respect for the public trust.

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Just in case you forgot, there are other ways to travel between Brunswick and Portland, and points further south.

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And there are other important aspects to this evolution.

Many of which you may already be aware, though if doesn’t matter much when there are local mitigating factors involved.

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1 comment:

  1. Every time I drive to Bath just past Cook's Corners there is a lovely piece of land just beyond the traffic light where you turn in to Lowes that would be an ideal spot for this monstrosity. If you remember it was the land that a former fruit and vegetable vendor used in the summer. I also don't know whatever happened to my suggestion because the chairman of the committee opposing this building was told by me in a letter early last year. In any event, this thing is going to get built where the authorities want it regardless of the delays imposed by these ungrateful taxpayers.

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