Wednesday, March 26, 2014

TRS infection discovered at Brunswick West; MLF may be quarantined

Sweety Bitch (Maggie,) our blind female Springer, had us up at Zero-Dark-Hundred this morning, thankful that no snow had fallen.  Boo-Boo (Boomer,) could not be rousted until an hour later.  He was apparently sawing sticks he can no longer fetch because he can’t see them.

Once we made it to the coffee pot, our nose for news began to twitch, so we took a few sips and did some googling on background for the MLF siting controversy, which is now a real news story, at least on a southern Maine scale.

We found a couple of interesting items.  The first one was this item from August of last year by local celebrity Jeff Reynolds, the Wayne Davis protégé we referred to in yesterday’s post.


Yes, that one.  And our response to his rhetorical question in The Ostrich is to say he’s right; he and facility opponents do not live on the same planet. 


Perhaps that’s why he has trouble breathing normally on ours.  The one where Brunswick is situated.

The linked item was published in August of last year.  Long enough for the author to have returned to the mother planet for some re-education, but based on the Monday night meeting, he must have missed the inter-planetary Amtrak express.

So we’ll do him a solid and offer a few corrections.  Let’s start with this passage:

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, by law, cannot be governed by state and local laws. The fact that NNEPRA’s chosen site for the layover facility is consistent with state and local laws — and, in particular, Brunswick zoning ordinances, has eluded Ms. Heath’s attention.

We’re not sure what he’s getting at here, since he says they cannot be governed by such laws, but have adhered to such laws, at least as he sees it.  We also want to point out that NNEPRA is a creature of State law, having been created in Maine Statute.  You can find it here and in the sections following:

We fail to see in that language where NNEPRA, created by state law, is excused from complying with state and local laws.

As to Reynolds’ claim that NNEPRA is in compliance with local zoning laws, we offer the following item from the Brunswick Zoning Board of Appeals:

It clearly shows that the zoning limit was 20,000 sq ft, and that a variance was requested (and granted) to increase size to nearly double that – 39,560 sq ft.  Since then, building plans expanded to 60,000 sq ft, and we believe, are now back in the range of 55,000 sq ft.

None of this matters though, because NNEPRA and the Federal Railroad Authority have claimed exemption from local zoning laws by virtue of a right of pre-emption. 


So Reynolds’ claim that the proposed MLF is ‘consistent with…in particular, Brunswick zoning ordinances,’ is so much Brunswick Sausage.

This passage also caught our attention:

The Town Council and NNEPRA have exercised due diligence.

Frankly, we’re not sure either knows what ‘due diligence’ means, other than in the bureaucratic, governmental, public servant sense, which is ‘we talked about it at a meeting, and gave some people some money.’  Witness the old Times Record Building, The McLellan, and numerous other examples.  And the plan for a 39,560 building which now stands at nearly 60,000 sq ft.  With a price just 3 years ago of $4 million, that now stands at approx. $15 million. 

Sounds pretty ‘diligent’ to us, at least when it comes to diligently seeing to it that much larger payments are ‘due.’  Speaking from his planet, Reynolds finds this cost appealing:

If it happens that, in addition to being the best site in operational and environmental terms, Brunswick West is also the least expensive, that’s cause for admiration.

We’ll move on from this item with one more passage, with a reminder to the author that he needs to carry emergency equipment with him.


If the facility is not built at Brunswick West, it will not be built anywhere in Brunswick. No facility means no additional trains, and that translates into full-blown failure for the service. We (and Freeport) can wave good-bye to our Downeaster.

But we don’t hold any grudge, because we have to make allowances for visitors if we’re going to be a tourist destination.  We wish the author happy trails, no matter where they may take him.


Now another interesting article, this one from The Forecaster.  Here’s the link:

It also dates from 2011, in fact, just four months after NNEPRA was granted the variance for a 39,560 sq ft MLF building plan.  Look at this opening passage:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 8:10 am

PORTLAND — Ending months of study and debate over where a 60,000-square-foot Amtrak layover facility should be established, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority voted Monday to build the $4 million train maintenance building between Stanwood Street and Church Road in Brunswick.

As you can see, the building footprint ‘inflated’ by 50% in just a few short months.  Since then, the cost has inflated by something like 300%.

Take note of the fact that the NNEPRA Board voted to build it at Brunswick West a full two years before the Environmental Assessment on the site was released.  Not a problem for them, we suppose, since they were paying for the study, and knew what the results of the ‘assessment’ would show, even back then.

That could be because Parsons Brinkerhoff was engaged to do the work.

But in their final report, the consulting firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff, hired by NNEPRA, concluded that "because of its historical use as a railroad property, proximity to the station, availability and cost effectiveness, (Brunswick West) best accommodates the operational requirements of Downeaster service and the overall development plans of the Town of Brunswick."

You might recall that we discussed PB in an earlier post, and pointed out that they were the Quality Control contractor on the Boston “Big Dig.”


That experience cost them $40 million to settle a law suit against the contractor team.  Obviously they have impeccable credentials for consulting to NNEPRA.  We’d love to see the ‘source selection’ materials that were used to bring them on board.  We trust it was a competitive process, and totally objective.

In the article, Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA ED, is quoted:

"The layover facility we are proposing is not the size of the Bath Iron Works dry dock ... it's no taller than a two-story house," Quinn said, referring to a video produced by the Brunswick Neighborhood Group.

The latest figure we’ve seen for the height of the proposed MLF is 37 ft, and that’s before allowing for possible footprint elevation due to site soil conditions.  We have a ‘two story house,’ and we can guaran-damn-tee you it isn’t 37 ft tall.  We’d be surprised if it was much more than 25 ft or so.

But hey; what’s 20,000 sq ft, $12 million dollars, and 15 ft in height among friends?  These are just ‘rounding errors’ in government work.

Which brings us full circle to prior discussions of The McLellan here on Side.  You may recall that we coined the term “TRS” (Times Record Syndrome) to describe the affliction that prevents public servants from being able to manage capital property projects.  To refresh you, the old TR building, purchased for roughly $1.3 million, and reported by a consultant to be in pretty good shape, was found to need $5 million or so in renovations to become fit for town use.  So the demolition team was called, and the diligentsia began to look elsewhere.

Elsewhere turned out to be a deal with those softies at Bowdoin College and a swap for The McLellan, whose adaptation costs began at “about $100,000,” and are now in excess of 12 times that, with unknowns still in the mix to remedy exterior deterioration.

We’re wondering whether we should call The McLellan the “McLellan Municipal Facility,” or MMF.  That would pair nicely with MLF, just as CoJo and GoJo pair nicely.

In any case, it’s clear that the use of the term “due diligence” in such governmental undertakings is a direct insult to straight talk and public sensibilities, just like the term ‘public servant’ has become.  So we’d ask that those who spend public monies on our behalf go sell those terms somewhere else, because we’re all stocked up on craziness around here.


If it hasn’t dawned on you by now, it’s clear that there is a shadow industry that we can think of as the Governmental & Consulting Contractor Complex.  The latter are the wolves, and the former are the sheep, acting with the authority of the sheep they represent.

The consultants have learned over a long history the fine art of building expectations, underestimating costs, promising they know the golden goose personally, and generally nurturing things along until such time as a proposal becomes an irreversible mandate. 


At that juncture, the OOPS memos start rolling out, and the crafty bureaucrats start issuing ‘updates’ that rely on very short public memories to help them get over the ‘speed-bumps.’  And if need be, they can always hire more consultants to manage the story line.


What’s that old saying: ‘who you gonna trust – us, or your lying eyes?’

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