Sunday, March 23, 2014

Amtrak MLF: Are Bouchard Drive residents ‘in a fix’ because ‘the fix is in?’

 

(Important note: This subject will be an item for discussion at the town council meeting tomorrow night, Monday, March 24th.  See the agenda here, and note the items under ‘correspondence.’  They read as follows (we expect those involved to speak on the subject:)

Letter from Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition (received 03/20/2014)

Email from Chris Casey, Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition (received on 03/19/2014) )

We’ve written again and again about the circumstances surrounding the plans for the Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility, currently expected to be built adjacent to the Bouchard Drive in-town neighborhood.  It’ll be a 600 ft plus long building, nearly 40 ft tall, located just steps away from family homes.  (If you want to refresh your memory on our past comments, take a look here: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/search?q=amtrak+mlf)

We’ve agonized again and again over the cognitive dissonance on display as the plans are discussed, promoted, and rationalized. 

                            

“An MLF MUST be built.”  Why??

“It MUST be built in Brunswick!”  Why is that??

“It MUST be built at Brunswick West, along Bouchard Drive!”  To which we say, hoist the Brunswick Sausage flag!

                             

“If we don’t build the MLF in Brunswick where we want, Amtrak Downeaster service to Brunswick WILL END!”  So the case for Downeaster service to Brunswick is that weak?

“Brunswick is nothing without Amtrak!”  Wait….I thought we were nothing without Bowdoin College; will somebody please get this straight?  If we’re supposed to believe, shouldn’t we be told WHAT to believe?  Like good little obedient subjects?

                   

Turns out The Ostrich ran an article on the subject on March 7th, the day we left town for a spring break.  You can find it here: http://www.timesrecord.com/news/2014-03-07/Front_Page/Millett_Move_trains_further_out_to_idle.html.  If you read the article critically, you might conclude, as we did, that it could well have been instigated by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), the quasi-state agency behind the Downeaster expansion and the MLF project.  The article, while offering comments from Councilor Jane Millett and resident Charlie Wallace, parrots all the NNEPRA propaganda points, especially in the “MORE” addendum following the reporter’s email contact info.

Former council candidate Alison Harris sent an email to the council following the article’s appearance, and we’ve posted it here:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/213746651/Alison-Harris-letter-to-town-council-on-March-12-2014.  We read it, and were convinced it had the trademarks of a letter ghosted by NNEPRA staff.  So we submitted the following email to the council:

Town Councilors:

I just reviewed an email from Alison Harris to the town council dated Wed, March 12, 2014, titled “Downeaster & Brunswick Layover Facility.”

Several things about this message are troubling, and I'm contacting you to offer comment. I will use a 'bullet-style' format in order to avoid too lengthy a discourse. Before I do, some background.

Last summer, after having personally experienced the noise, vibration, and fumes of the nearby Downeaster as I sat in Charlie Wallace's office building, I contacted my town councilor, who at the time was Council Chair.

It took a full 24 hours for the smell and taste of the fumes in my nose and on my lips to dissipate, even though I had been inside the office, not outside. This experience convinced me it would be useful for the Chair to visit the track area in the presence of a train so she could experience things for herself. I offered the invite, which she turned down, and rather abruptly and summarily. Our conversation ended on that note.

As I understand things, some councilors have recently attempted to add an agenda item proposing a council resolution addressed to the FRA supporting the need for a full blown Environmental Impact Statement prior to MLF construction.

I further understand that the chair has so far blocked such an agenda item, on the basis that there are 'too many other things to deal with.' This puzzles and perturbs me, adding to the long-held suspicion that something deeply wrong is lurking beneath the surface on the entire Amtrak issue. In so many words, something doesn't smell right.

Now to the 'bullet points:'

  • While difficult to prove, the Harris email has all the earmarks of having been ghosted by NNEPRA and funneled to the Council via a convenient Amtrak advocate. I've done a ton of writing in my day, and read lots and lots of letters endorsing candidates, among other things. An instinctive alarm goes off when a letter sounds too contrived and too perfect. Ms. Harris is obviously invested in the mystique of Amtrak service to Brunswick, and is hardly a detached and objective observer on such matters.

  • Harris is a volunteer at the Visitor Center. This facility should be renamed the “Departure Center,” because it surely has a bigger role servicing those who leave the local region for points south, rather than welcoming visitors who leave points south to visit our region. Especially if you take Bowdoin College students and staff into account. Keep in mind that every vehicle in the long term parking lot next to Brooks Farm Supply belongs to someone departing our area, not someone arriving here.

  • A comparison of value offered to travelers by Concord Trailways service, when compared to the Downeaster, would overwhelmingly show that the bus wins hands down. Furthermore, the cost to local, state, and national taxpayers would similarly argue for the bus and against the train. I plan to post a lengthier treatise on this subject soon.

  • Back to the 'doesn't smell right' point. I don't know how well-tuned your sense of smell is, but all things considered, I worry that too much personal and political capital has been invested in Amtrak service by too many in our town.

  • Harris' inference that she bases her position on what she reads in the local paper is troubling. As one who has sparred with local papers for more than a decade, I am more than familiar with their shallow editorial practices and utter lack of investigative reporting skills. Rather than indict Harris on the face of things for buying their story, I take this as tacit evidence that NNEPRA is behind her message to councilors, and perhaps the article itself. Notice particularly the patronizing tone of the first paragraph.

  • Harris makes reference to the EA of September 2013, but fails to note that changes to the MLF design after this document was put on the record corrupt its conclusions. And she neglects to mention that the site selection work she refers to was done years after NNEPRA had made its decision on where to build the MLF.

  • Mention of 'freight traffic' as an imperative for locating an MLF in the Bouchard Drive neighborhood is a specious argument, and comes across as yet another NNEPRA plant.

  • Mention of putting idling engines into 'other unfortunate neighborhood's back yards' is similarly specious and suspect.

  • The euphoric reference to 'five round-trips every day!' ignores ridership realities between Brunswick and points south, and for reasons unknown, seems to suggest that providing more convenient options for area residents to spend their discretionary funds elsewhere profits the town. An objective assessment of train use would surely show that the economic benefits of the service accrue mostly at destinations to the south, at the expense of local establishments.

  • Comments like “I found the discussion of alternative sites on pages 4-10 particularly helpful, as I am sure you did” are particularly gratuitous and revealing.

  • The last paragraph, in which Harris says she hopes “WE” have your support, once “WE” get past delays, etc, etc. are again peculiarly betraying. This memo was not from “WE,” it was from an individual.

  • While the BWNC has employed a media consultant, the comments on the EA dated September 2013 were not submitted through his office. They were submitted through their attorney. This is another indication that the message is not as represented.

  • Since I do not subscribe to the local newspaper, I did not see the referenced article in its original form. However, the version currently posted on the web (http://www.timesrecord.com/news/2014-03-07/Front_Page/Millett_Move_trains_further_out_to_idle.html)  appears to have been amended following the original posting. The amendment looks as if it were written by NNEPRA. Suspicions that the original article may have been instigated by NNEPRA are reasonable, since this would be common 'media relations' tactics for Portland entities.

I hope you will consider these observations as you ponder what to do next about this matter. Clearly, moving forward on the current NNEPRA plan will have irreversibly detrimental effects on hundreds of Brunswick families, while a full Environmental Impact Statement process will ensure that due diligence has been applied before doing so.

I assure you that I am capable of writing memos like this one by myself, and have indeed done so.  Furthermore, I have no direct stake in Downeaster service, MLF location, or other related factors.

I am, rather, a local 'gadfly' (according to some) who takes exception to insults to the public trust, and abuse of the plain facts associated with such matters.

Respectfully,

Pem Schaeffer

====================================================================

As we pondered the MLF and Downeaster assertions raised early in this post, the Ostrich article, and the ensuing email, we had an ‘excuse me!’ moment. 

Why does the train have to spend 5 hours idling in Brunswick to begin with?  Why doesn’t the crew return the 12:35 pm Brunswick arrival to Portland with paying passengers?  The crew has to get down to Portland anyway.  And all the infrastructure for provisioning, fueling, cleaning, etc, already exists there!  Then another crew could bring a train back from Portland for the 5:50 pm Brunswick departure, carrying paying passengers from Portland on the trip.  This would amount to a third round trip per day, if we have our numbers right.

Oh wait…we know why they can’t do that!  If they did, there would be no contract for Brunswick Taxi to haul crews back and forth from Portland in two round trips per day, at what we’ve swagged to yield $4,000 a week in revenue.  Although now that we think of it, a contract for a ‘Taxi to Nowhere’ is not out of the question when you’re the Government and you have ‘associates’ in the right places.  (We’re still waiting for official information from Amtrak, or a correction from the Kings of Brunswick Taxi.  Our breath ran out several months ago, so we’re getting by on giggle gas at the moment.  Go FU!)

Some might argue that the train has to stay and idle in Brunswick because of labor issues with the crews, even though we’re confident they’re paid for the time they spend riding in the comfort of a Brunswick Taxi van.  Or that track ‘slots’ along the right of way won’t allow for these transits.

Poppycock, we say, and as substantiation, we cite NNEPRA’s claims of expanding service to additional round trips, and Ms. Harris’ euphoric reference to ‘five round trips every day,’ each of which speak to the emptiness of any such possible constraints.

We keep looking at what you might call the ‘defining parameters’ of this situation, and each time we do, we come back to the same unavoidable conclusion.

Deep within our self-actualized, instinctive one-ness, when we find ourselves in perfect alignment with the natural order of the cosmos, we can’t get over a lingering hunch that some-one, and more likely multiple some-ones, have much to gain and/or much to lose depending on how things play out. 

When logic and rational thought are nowhere in evidence, personal self-interest almost always turns out to be the driving force.  We’re too respectful of our ‘public servants,’ elected and otherwise, to say “follow the money.”  But you might not be, so have at it.  And don’t forget power and influence, the other addictions known to afflict those who serve us.

On the other hand, loyalties taken to the extreme might be involved, though we can’t pin those down either.  Loyalty sounds like an honorable trait, and is a good thing when it serves the interests of all involved. 

When it involves compromising the general good, and relates only to the self-interests of a few, at the expense of the many, it is a corruption of public service.

At this point in our dissertation, we think it’s time to consider the various parties involved, because we think there are lots of dots that may be connected, and we don’t want to miss any.  We’ll begin with U.S. Senator King, Angus, reputedly a resident of Brunswick. 

Senator Angus King

Turns out NNEPRA was created during King’s years as Maine’s Governor, so it’s entirely possible he sees the Downeaster extension to Brunswick as a legacy issue (especially if his wind-power legacy runs out of hot air.)

While it was established in 1995, before a certain former Speaker arrived in Augusta, King’s tenure as Governor overlapped with the legislative career of said individual for four years.

A Bouchard Drive resident with substantial career background in railroad matters asked the Senator to see that the Federal Railroad Administration was using rigor and due diligence in delineating the environmental consequences of the proposed MLF. 

King responded with a letter you can read here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/213746610/Sen-Angus-King-letter-re-Amtrak-MLF-environmental-process.

In the letter, King wears a white hat, rides the horse of lily-white federal purity, and staunchly defends the integrity of the Washington bureaucracy. 

                                      

It’s like he’s telling McEvoy ‘we’ll have to build the MLF first to find out what effect it has on your neighborhood, away from the fog of controversy.’

King has come a long way since his Pine Tree Legal days when he advocated for the little guy who couldn’t afford thousands of dollars in legal fees.  Now he advocates for spendthrift big government (with unlimited legal resources) against the little guy who can’t afford tens of thousands in legal fees.

Funny how time, money, and power can change a person, isn’t it?  One can only guess how much respect he has for the ethical foundations of the IRS and other federal employers of long-suffering ‘public servants.’

                      

You can make up your own mind, but as we see it in his letter, King doesn’t represent the people, he represents the masters of the people.  And makes sure to protect his legacy, no matter the effect.  Let’s hope a different kind of hoof beats are heard soon.

Guilford Transportation/Pan Am Railways

As we understand things, Guilford sold the 8 acre proposed MLF site at Brunswick West to NNEPRA in 2011, suggesting the MLF was already planned to be built there, even though an Environmental Assessment had not been done.  The EA was issued in September of last year.  You might say that the answer was known before the questions were asked.

As part of that sale, Guilford effectively absolved itself of full responsibility for site remediation, and would love to see NNEPRA build something on the site to end whatever obligations they still have.  Constructing the MLF there, would in effect, allow Guilford to wash their hands of the contamination problem.

NNEPRA

NNEPRA exhibits all the arrogance of autonomy and sanctimony of sovereignty that infected the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine State  Housing Authority before they were scrubbed down with a wire brush wielded by newly appointed and determined boards.  Like the latter two agencies, NNEPRA was created by Maine Statute, and is performing a ‘governmental function:’

Title 23: TRANSPORTATION

Part 7: RAILROADS HEADING: PL 1987, C. 141, PT. A, §4 (NEW)

Chapter 621: PASSENGER RAIL SERVICE HEADING: PL 1995, C. 374, §3 (NEW)

Subchapter 2: NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND PASSENGER RAIL AUTHORITY HEADING: PL 1995, C. 374, §3 (NEW)

§8111. Purpose

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, as established by Title 5, section 12004-F, subsection 16, is a body both corporate and politic in the State established for the general purpose of promoting passenger rail service as set forth in subchapter 1. It is declared that the purposes of this chapter are public and that the authority must be regarded as performing a governmental function in carrying out this chapter. [2005, c. 312, §7 (AMD).]

Besides it’s manifest lack of oversight and accountability, what troubles us most about NNEPRA is the makeup of its Board, and how their connections, past affiliations, and loyalties may influence their decision making and rigor in directing and understanding the actions of the Executive Director and her staff.

The Board currently has a vacancy awaiting Augusta action; the six sitting members are shown below, along with our observations on how they could be ‘dots’ that connect into a picture:

Martin Eisenstein, Chairman
Senior Partner, Brann and Isaacson, Lewiston, Maine

Eisentstein has a wide ranging CV, as shown here: http://www.brannlaw.com/info.php?sec=2&pid=28.  While we do not know him, we think its fair to say that he is probably widely known in the Statehouse, and in all likelihood, had frequent dealings with a certain well-known former Speaker of the House (any guesses?)

Dana Connors, Vice Chairman
President, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Augusta, Maine

A long time habitue’ in the Statehouse, and we have no doubt, a mover and shaker in any number of power circles; surely well acquainted with that same former Speaker.

Matt Jacobson, Treasurer

A primary candidate in the last race for Maine Governor, which may be the only thing he has in common with a former Speaker, though said Speaker wet his bed before actually becoming a candidate on the ballot.  Jacobson actually has professional experience managing railroad operations.

David Bernhardt, Director
Commissioner, Maine Department of Transportation

An Ex-officio member of the board, who has been in the Maine DOT since 1984.  We’re confident that during his many years in Augusta, he of necessity became well acquainted with a certain former Speaker.

John Bubier, Director
City Manager, City of Biddeford, Maine

A man with a varied background in municipal governance, active in the Maine Municipal Association, and with nine years as the ED of The Greater Portland Council of Governments.  You can read about him here.  We think its fair again to assume his background includes working with a certain former Speaker.

Carolann Ouellette, Director
Director, Maine Office of Tourism

An Ex-officio member of the Board, apparently serving as the designee of Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner George Gervais.  Gervais has been with DECD since 2008, holding a variety of offices before his current post, including Assistant Commissioner and Acting Commissioner.  Since a certain former Speaker was Commissioner from January 2007 until November 2009, we suspect the two are well acquainted, and had a mutually beneficial working relationship.

Ouellette herself has been at the Tourism Office, a part of DECD, since 2007.  So we’re confident that she and a certain former Speaker have a recent personal working relationship.

By now you’re probably asking yourself why we keep pointing out connections to a certain former Speaker, and if you did, good for you.   Be patient; and keep your crayons handy, because there are yet more dots to connect.  We’re just getting to the good part, and more than dots connecting, paths crossing may be more to the point.

We’ve written before about calling a duck a duck, based on the walk and the talk.  You won’t have to wait much longer to see if the dots you connect with your crayon reveal a duck, or even worse, a turkey.

 

Moving along, let’s get to what we call:

The J & J Connection                                             

As residents of Brunswick know, we have our own long standing “J&J” presence in the community.

            

In our working days, we spent a boatload of bucks having them tend to our shirts, both dress and casual (‘medium starch, hangers,’)  These days, they even use delivery vehicles similar to the newly acquired Brunswick Taxi vehicles.

       DSCN0460

We’re hoping J&J didn’t get local taxpayers to buy the vehicles for them, but one never knows, does one?

There is a similar enterprise here in town, one which could be referred to as “Jo & Jo.”  If that sounds cryptic, you’ll have to humor us in our discretion.  Think of this as a puzzler to hold your interest; Shirley, you can figure it out on your own.  (Hint: both their first names begin with the letters Jo.)

Jo and Jo, who we could just as well tag “CoJo” and “GoJo,” have crossed paths in evident ways, and possibly in other ways.

A number of years back, when GoJo was running the DECD, he came before CoJo and the town council to regale them with his personal contacts with no less than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, which he could not reveal because of ‘protocols.’  This was at a time when interest in Base redevelopment was at a high among town officials.

GoJo left his DECD position to run for Governor.  CoJo served as the treasurer for his campaign, which self-destructed because of ‘irregularities’ in the collection of ‘clean-election’ campaign funds.  Ironic, that.

GoJo now holds the council seat previously long held by CoJo.

GoJo and CoJo have both served on the Board of the Brunswick Development Corporation.  Although CoJo had left that position when the quarter million dollar totally forgivable loan was given to Brunswick Taxi, both GoJo and former Mr. Manager voted in favor of the arrangement.  We can’t help but wonder whether GoJo, in his role as an attorney, might have provided any legal services associated with the transaction to the owner of the recipient taxi firm.  Or ‘facilitated’ it in any other way.

We similarly wonder whether anyone well known provided legal services to Brunswick Taxi for negotiating their contract with Amtrak via Crew Transportation Services, and if so, what the fee arrangements might be.  Could it be similar to what an agent gets…a slice of the pie?

We could site other connected dots, like School Board candidacies, etc, but why bother?

Far as we know, Jo & Jo aren’t planning on opening a laundry, even though ‘taking the town to the cleaners’ comes easily to mind.

And lets not forget the Gary Brown Dots

Oh, and before we end our discussion for now, we’re reminded of how the recently departed Mr. Manager sat in the Cable 3 booth at the so called ‘public hearing’ with NNEPRA in September of last year, and personally ordered that the playback of a calibrated sound recording of an idling Amtrak train be spiked.  This was to be part of testimony given by a town resident who is a Professional Engineer with vast environmental credentials.

We’re not sure where the former Mr. M’s dots will fall in the final artwork, but we’re pretty convinced we haven’t heard or seen the last of him in local affairs.  And who knows – maybe the prior Mr. M will turn out to have a few dots in the picture as well.  Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

Looking for The Shadow

We’re pretty sure after all of this that there’s some evil lurking in the hearts and minds of someone’s somewhere, but we don’t know who they are, and what it is.  Hunches and instincts don’t go away easily.  And the gnawing sensation that personal gain and self-interest are significants factor in this affair just won’t go away.

We’re confident that The Shadow knows, though we’ve been unable to reach him or his people.  If any of you have an inside track with The Shadow, how about asking him to give us a shout, or you could act as a messenger for transporting stuff from him to us.  But don’t expect Brunswick Taxi to comp you a ride.  You should plan on riding the train instead, if only figuratively.

We’ll leave you with an extra credit question:  Is it possible to be the Governor of a Municipality in Maine?  We ask because we wonder if someone who once dreamed of being Governor of the entire state, only to have the dream snatched from him by himself, might try to live out that fantasy by effecting the behavior of Governor of Brunswick.

We know; silly question.  But we bet you’re smirking and snickering as you think about it.

You know, maybe it’s time for you to relax and take in a movie.  We understand one in particular is doing quite well in Brunswick.

Let us know what you think of it.  For all we know, they may play a clip or two from it at the town council meeting this Monday night.

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1 comment:

  1. This past weekend I took a drive along Bath Road and confirmed my every suspicion that this facility could be built anywhere from Bowdoin College to well past Cook's Corner ion land already zoned industrial. We got Obamacare when the majority didn't want it. What makes you think they aren't going to put this facility where they want it despite the cries of the majority? It is what you get when the majority are led by a bunch of self serving individuals and it is called democracy.

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