Saturday, April 5, 2014

Amtrak MLF Site Location: Lessons in selective memory and selective compliance with…..oh well, whatever sounds good at the moment you need it to sound good.

                    

Other Siders:  Not too long ago we suggested that ‘the fix was in’ on building the MLF at Brunswick West, adjacent to Bouchard Drive, because of the decision sequence (and related dates) associated with doing so.  We said it here:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2014/03/amtrak-mlf-are-bouchard-drive-residents.html

We erred in how we arrived at that conclusion, and we profusely apologize for our careless reading of the record.  We had thought, due to inadequate study, that the siting decision was part of the EA report released this past September, and hence, was not official until such time as the EA was released.  Yet the property had been purchased years before, and a contract was let to begin design and construction work for the MLF before the EA was released. 

As we saw it, regardless of what the EA concluded, NNEPRA had already decided what they were going to do, and initiated the work to do it, regardless of whether the assessment concluded it was an acceptable site or not.  And before the public had a chance to see the EA and submit comments.  And before the Federal Railroad Authority had reviewed the EA dated September 2013 and adjudicated the public comments submitted the following month, in order to reach their decision of whether to issue a FONSI or call for an EIS, per NEPA process regulations.

(See “Liking trains….and doing it right” at: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2014/04/loving-trainand-doing-it-right.html  to refresh yourselves on the terminology and process.)

                            

Once we realized our error in understanding the juxtaposition of the various dates and events, we came to a clearer understanding of how the dots of the process connect in their path to where we are now.

                                                                                                                                              We apologize again for our carelessness.  And we hereby correct our view of things to this: it still looks like the fix has been in.  Let us explain why we say that.

Background Materials:

The following documents will be used to back up our assertions, and to serve as general references for what we have to say:

  • Brunswick Layover Environmental Assessment (EA) September 2013:

http://www.nnepra.com/sites/default/files/Brunswick%20Final%20EA%20-%20%20091213_0.pdf

  • Downeaster Layover Facility Project Siting Report, by Parsons Brinkerhoff for NNEPRA, August 18, 2011.  This is listed as Appendix B in the above EA:

http://www.nnepra.com/sites/default/files/Appendix%20B%20-%20Downeaster%20Layover%20Facility%20Project%20Siting%20Report_1.pdf

  • In addition, we are in possession of a letter from Pan Am Systems, dated April 4, 2011, to the Brunswick Zoning Board of Appeals, in which they request a variance for the Brunswick West property.  The letter includes this passage:

Pan Am Systems (Pan Am), parent company of the Maine Central Railroad, is in the process of negotiating a sale of the Property to NNEPRA for use as a layover facility for the Downeaster service.

  • Furthermore, we are in possession of a PURCHASE AND SALE AGREEMENT dated June 2, 2011, by and between Maine Central Railroad Company and NNEPRA for the property commonly referred to as the Brunswick West site.

Let’s begin by looking at Page 5 of the Siting Report (Appendix B):

Utilization of the Naval Air Station (NAS) site would require construction of a new grade crossing across Bath Road, in conjunction with a steeply graded connecting track from the existing rail corridor across Bath Road into the NAS (See Appendix A for site layout). Moreover, development of a railroad storage and maintenance facility on the NAS site may not be viewed as being in conformance with redevelopment plans for the NAS. For these reasons, it was determined to eliminate the NAS site from further consideration.

(emphasis ours)

Notice the deep concern expressed by Parsons Brinkerhoff, acting on NNEPRA’s behalf, for conforming with other party’s ‘redevelopment plans.’  We always appreciate respect for what others have done to lay out their plans for a desirable future.  Notice also the effective use of the passive third party: (“may not be viewed.”  And “it was determined.”)

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)

Here again we see PB/NNEPRA deep concern and respect for the zoning, Comprehensive Plan, and Master Plan of Brunswick, apparently because Town staff had stated there would be a conflict.

Let’s see what we find in the Siting Report (Appendix B) regarding the Brunswick West site, also on Page 12:

Brunswick West: This site was previously developed as a rail freight yard. One siding track remains in use today. Properties to the north of the site are primarily a mix of industrial, commercial and residential uses, including a fuel storage facility. An industrial park is located to the west across Church Road. To the south, the site is bordered by a residential neighborhood, which has concerns for potential impacts associated with air and noise emissions from the facility in addition to visual impacts of the layover building. The site is zoned Commercial 1 and 2, and Mixed Use 2- Intown Railroad Corridor. Continued use and development of this site for
railroad transportation activities is consistent with the Town of Brunswick’s zoning and with its Comprehensive Plan; the contemplated layover facility is deemed to be a permitted use by the Town.

(emphasis ours)

If you’ve been following the discussions all along, you know that the site was zoned for buildings of 20,000 square foot max.  And that a variance was applied for to increase that to 39,560 square feet.  The Zoning Board of Appeals approved that variance.  Only to be told that Amtrak has pre-emption rights and can ignore zoning.  And they they increased the planned building size to 60,000 square feet, or three times town zoning regulations.

                             

Anyway you want to look at it, claiming in the August 2011 Siting Report that the site is ‘consistent with the Town of Brunswick’s zoning is’ Brunswick Sausage. 

As to the Comprehensive Plan? We know this: The Downtown Master Plan, adopted by the Town Council in January 2011, prioritizes “Visual Quality” and “Neighborhoods” in “Our Downtown Vision.”  You can find this plan here:

http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Adopted-Downtown-Master-Plan.pdf

Here’s what it says about Neighborhoods:

Downtown residential neighborhoods are an economic asset to Brunswick, providing tax revenue and pedestrian traffic to downtown businesses and attractions. Housing options are increased, while preserving valued features of neighborhoods.

   

We similarly conclude that the claim that the Brunswick West site is “consistent with the Town of Brunswick’s Comprehensive Plan” is flying fast and loose with the facts.  Someone needs to look ashamed, and it’s not us.

We think it’s time to ask the audience tuning in to our report to show by their applause whether the siting report is consistent in it’s principles, accurate, ethical, and unbiased in reaching a conclusion that the site already purchased is the best choice.  So Feniman, turn on the applause meter, and let’s see what we get.

                    

Looks like the audience is pretty unanimous in their finding.  Maybe those involved would like to “take a meeting” on the subject.

          

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

Before we close our discussion of the topic for right now, we want to provide you with this reference material that we’ve extracted from the EA document, and highlighted the passages that seem appropriate to our case.

Remember that the siting report was issued in August 2011.

Backup reference materials, from pages 43-45 of the September, 2013 Environmental Assessment Report

(Emphasis added is ours)

Agency and Public Involvement

Correspondence with agencies regarding technical aspects of the proposed project are detailed in relevant sections of this document and are compiled in Appendix A.
The project proponent, NNEPRA, has coordinated with the public and federal, state and local agencies throughout the development of the proposed project. This included NNEPRA Board meetings and three public meetings held in Brunswick to describe the proposals and solicit public feedback. The public meetings were well attended and publicized in the local media (newspaper, cable television). In addition, an advisory group comprised of officials from the Town of Brunswick, the Brunswick Town Council, the MaineDOT, Amtrak, and members of the Brunswick community was convened in December 2011 and has met on three occasions.

A summary of public and agency meetings is presented below.

April 21, 2011 – Brunswick Zoning Board Meeting


NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA Project Manager James Russell and NNEPRA attorney Nathaniel Rosenblatt attended the public Brunswick Zoning Board meeting to request a dimensional variance for the construction of a layover facility. Ms. Quinn gave a PowerPoint presentation about Amtrak Downeaster service and outlined the initial concept to construct a layover facility at the Brunswick West rail yard. The variance was granted, though the Town subsequently determined that the proposed facility would be exempt from local zoning requirements and that the variance was therefore not required.

Recall that the siting report said the site is consistent with Brunswick zoning, yet here we read of NNEPRA management seeking a variance.

April 25, 2011 – NNEPRA Board Meeting

Ms. Quinn reported that the dimensional variance for a layover was granted by the Brunswick Zoning Board and that NNEPRA staff would begin the process of developing design specifications for a Brunswick Layover facility.

The variance was granted (for 39,560 sq ft, not the current 60,000 sq ft figure) and the design process would begin, even though the site selection report was not complete and issued for review.

May 23, 2011- NNEPRA Board Meeting

Ms. Quinn reported that a procurement process for an engineering consulting firm to assist in the design and development of a layover facility in Brunswick had begun. Brunswick residents in attendance at the meeting asked if other sites had been considered. Ms. Quinn responded that the engineering firm to be selected would be responsible for site evaluations (including consideration of alternatives), environmental assessments, and facility design development. She also stated that once a firm was retained, it was NNEPRA’s full intention to hold public meetings to discuss plans for the facility to get input from neighbors. When asked specifically about a site in the industrial park, Ms. Quinn reiterated that a preliminary evaluation of other sites had been conducted, but that the engineering consultant would be responsible for a full site assessment, including alternatives.

We’re confused; are you?  Chicken?  Egg?  Site selection?  Design contract?  Alternative reviews? 

June 23, 2011 – NNEPRA Hosted Public Meeting, Brunswick, Maine

NNEPRA provided an overview of the layover facility project, and introduced the consultant team from Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB). The PB project manager discussed the consultant’s scope of work and schedule for the project. Mention was made of NNEPRA’s intention to “stand down” from proceeding with advanced design of the layover facility, and instead provide an opportunity to consider alternative sites and review the basic facility configuration and operating needs with the public and elected officials at a series of meetings. Consultant staff called attention to the fact that because presently there was no federal involvement with the layover facility, a formal environmental assessment under NEPA would not be required. However, the Consultant’s scope of work included preparation of an Environmental Report, which would be performed in a manner akin to a federal environmental document.


The overall operating needs and functions of the layover facility were explained by the consultant team and by the Amtrak General Superintendent, emphasis being made as to the overnight storage and servicing function of the facility, with traditional maintenance, inspection and repair work being performed by Amtrak at established remote locations such as Boston. It was explained at the meeting that PB would be performing an analysis of potential site locations during the next ten weeks, and Brunswick residents were provided an opportunity to ask questions and present their thoughts and opinions about the facility. Many questions addressed the process and schedule, which were responded to by staff with an indication of alternatives analysis lasting through August 2011, with site recommendation and a transition to design occurring in September 2011. Meeting participants were encouraged to contact NNEPRA and PB staff with suggestions for potential sites. A follow-up public meeting was scheduled for July 14, 2011.

Remember, the purchase and sale agreement was made on June 2, 2011.  We really are starting to wonder.

                       

June 27, 2011 – NNEPRA Board Meeting


Ms. Quinn provided an overview of the June 23rd meeting and explained that once a site was selected, an environmental review including noise and air quality analyses would be conducted.  Brunswick residents attended the meeting and had an opportunity to ask questions and state concerns.

July 14, 2011 – Public Meeting, Brunswick, Maine

The PB Team provided an overview of six potential sites for a layover facility within a four mile vicinity of the Brunswick Station. During PB’s presentation, consultant staff outlined the potential footprint of the facility and the land requirements. By virtue of being a railroad yard with its required track work geometry, the layover facility has a long, narrow rectangular configuration and needs to be adjacent to the railroad main line. PB staff noted that they had investigated several potential sites including those identified by real estate representatives of the present owners.
Based on further analysis, four sites were eliminated due to unsuitable configuration of the available/offered property and the resultant need for additional property takings and relocations. It was explained that the three sites remaining after this initial screening; East Brunswick, Brunswick West and the Brunswick Industrial Park; would be evaluated in greater detail and that PB would provide their recommendations to the NNEPRA Board and the public for review and comment.

Public comments and questions centered on the specifics of Amtrak maintenance facility operations and on how non-quantitative issues, such as quality of life, would be addressed in the recommendation process and on the manner in which NNEPRA would act on the recommendations. The materials presented at this meeting were posted on the NNEPRA website for public review.


August 17, 2011 – Press Conference

A Press Conference was held at the NNEPRA office in the afternoon to publicize the release of the Brunswick Layover Siting Analysis Report prepared by PB so that it would be available to the public in advance of the next public meeting.

August 18, 2011 – Special NNEPRA Board Meeting, Brunswick, Maine


The NNEPRA Board hosted a special meeting in Brunswick at which time the PB consultants provided a PowerPoint presentation, directed to the public and the NNEPRA Board, of their findings and recommendation that the Brunswick West rail yard was the best location for the Amtrak Downeaster layover facility. The presentation was a summarization of a “Siting Report” and included a listing of design, operational and environmental issues, renderings of the facility at each proposed site and a set of project evaluation criteria. The presentation also included a two-part narrated video presentation which provided an on-site overview of existing Amtrak Downeaster layover operations at Portland and an on- the-ground tour of each of the three Brunswick sites still under consideration. The public was provided the opportunity to comment and ask questions of the NNEPRA Board, staff and consultant staff. The entire proceedings were broadcast over local community television.

So they recommended the Brunswick West site, but three sites were still under consideration.  OK, we think we’ve got it now, but who’s on first?

August 22, 2011 – Regular meeting of the NNEPRA Board of Directors, Portland, Maine


The NNEPRA Board voted unanimously to accept the PB recommendation to continue with the development of a layover facility at the West Brunswick rail yard location. The Board also voted to establish a Building Advisory Group comprised of officials from the Town of Brunswick, the Brunswick Town Council, the MaineDOT, Amtrak, and members of the Brunswick community to participate with NNEPRA and PB on the development of a layover facility at that location.

Voted to continue with development at Brunswick West, as in it had already begun, before the Site Selection report was issued?  And before an Environmental Assessment of the project had been performed?  And commented on?  And reviewed?  And a decision reached on the outcome?

                      

About the only things we’re sure of at this point is that we aren’t going to have eggs for breakfast tomorrow, and we aren’t going to have chicken for dinner.  We don’t want to look at either right now.

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1 comment:

  1. When will you ever learn that my mind is made up so stop confusing the issue with facts.

    ReplyDelete