Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On “Engines” and Economics: Town/Gown Collaboration, Service Learning, Academic Rigor, & Critical Thinking


Every now and then the fates align, providing a rare opportunity for our perfect little town to rise above the riff-raffery of monotonous municipal mundanity.  Opportunity briefly knocks, offering Lake Basebegone the chance to find it’s place in the pantheon of the global placemaking movement. 

The recent embrace of raised crosswalks as a traffic calming measure, and back in parking (rejected by the unenlightened) before that, establish our willingness to do anything, to pay any price, to make a name for ourselves.  Not necessarily a good name, but a name nonetheless.

It’s Time for a Reality Check

We are now in the “Age of Amtrak” phase of making a place of ourselves.  This calls for one of our broken record reminders: Henry Hazlitt’s ‘economics in one lesson,’ which reads as follows:

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

We’re here to propose looking at effects and tracing consequences of very specific acts and policies.  Especially as they relate to both “sides” of town.

    An Amtrak Downeaster passenger train arrives at Brunswick's Maine Street Station in this November 2012 file photo.

Any guesses what we might be referring to?  If you haven’t figured it out yet, here are some clues.

Pertinent Background

Feast your eyes and your sensibilities, if you have any, upon these morsels of Downeaster related nutrition:

    • “It’s change. It will be an adjustment, I’m not denying that,” said (Margo) Knight. “But the service to Brunswick has done amazing things already for the businesses downtown.” (March 2013). Keep in mind the service began just 4 months earlier.
    • "People are very excited about the train service being here and are excited about the increased train service," she said. (Margo Knight; September 2013)
    • Petrillo’s in Freeport, adjacent to the station there, reportedly has experienced ‘at least a slight uptick’ in their business, which sounds like scripted spin for ‘no tangible benefit.’
    • PORTLAND (AP) — Amtrak’s Downeaster train carried nearly 50 percent more passengers on its expanded Portland-to- Brunswick route than rail officials expected in the first year of the service.  The numbers for the new line show that north of Portland, two-thirds of the passengers boarded in Brunswick, while the rest boarded in Freeport.  (November 2013)
      • We’re not sure whether that means Brunswick has had a massive population outflow or what.
    • Former Town Councilor Margo Knight noted that while a train is a “powerful economic engine,”…. (April 2014)
    • Last election season, we published a ‘candidate forum.’  One of the questions we asked was this: Do  you believe the Amtrak train, all things considered, has provided an economic benefit to Brunswick?  Please explain your reasons for your position.
      • Benet Pols, now the Council Chair, answered this way: Who knows? There's no objective data at all.
    • The service currently carries about 150 passengers a day on the part of the route north of Portland , Quinn said.”  (Against a capacity of about 1200)
      • Question:  If we ride from Brunswick to Freeport to Portland in the morning, and back from Portland through Freeport to Brunswick later in the day, how many ‘passengers’ are we counted as?  One?  Two?  Four?
    • NNEPRA FY13 Annual Report figures (
      • food service revenue was $611,812; food service operating expenses were $773,420.  That’s a loss of 21% on food service.
      • total operating revenue was $9,182,012 against total operating expenses of $16,762,301.  That’s an operating loss of 45% overall -  $7.5 million.  With ample reason to expect the loss will grow in the current year and in the future.
    • In round numbers, fares on the Downeaster would have to double for the operation to approach financial ‘sustainability.’  What effect would that have on ridership?
    • Capacity for riders between Portland and Brunswick is 1200 per day with two round trips.  Average ridership (143 per day) is barely 12% of this capacity, yet we hear constant talk of ‘expanding service to Brunswick.’
      • MLF is ‘required’ to store trains in Brunswick because of severe limits on track slots between Brunswick and Portland; how can service be expanded?

Clarity, we say, clarity.  That’s what we need, now more than ever.

A Rare Opportunity

The Downeaster has been running between Brunswick and Portland for 18 months.  As noted above, local officials were issuing rave reviews (“amazing things already for the businesses downtown”) within four months of service initiation.  Having been in operation through all four seasons and more, we think it’s high time that a serious, disciplined look at the economic promises and realities of Downeaster service be undertaken.

Brunswick is uniquely positioned to get to the heart of this challenging subject.  We’re home to Bowdoin College, which has a strong devotion to service learning and community involvement for the common good.  (  Not to mention that it employs some of the finest minds in economics and socio-political studies.

The community, for its part, embraces the excellence of the local academy in all regards, and reveres its contributions to economic and social justice, the advance of human knowledge, and its elevation of town character.

This symbiosis provides a unique opportunity for all to benefit by leveraging the town/gown connection.  Rarely does such synergy and objectivity present itself as a resource to bring clarity to the facts of our circumstances, while providing an unprecedented learning opportunity for students and their faculty.

The Challenge

We see the key participants in this quest as the Brunswick Town Council; the town Economic Development Office; the Brunswick Downtown Association; Bowdoin administration; Bowdoin faculty; and the Bowdoin student body.

And we see the challenge as addressing the pyramid of human comprehension: data, information, knowledge, understanding, truth, and finally, wisdom.

We look to those like Professor David Vail (Emeritus) of the Bowdoin Economics Department.  He’s been a leading voice on the subject of sustainability, and has also participated in various tourism studies.  Some years back, he was one of a rotating group of columnists who provided commentaries on sustainability to the local newspaper.

Further, we hope Professor Christian Potholm of the Government and Legal Studies Department might have an interest in advising on the socio-political aspects of this subject.

It goes without saying, of course, though we are saying it anyway, that this is clearly a superb, real-life learning experience for Bowdoin students under the guidance of nationally recognized faculty mentors.

In keeping with the common-good motivation, we expect all related efforts to be on a non-paid, voluntary basis, though we expect some students could earn credits for meaningful research projects in their major field of study.


Analysis Topics

We’ll be very brief for now; we’re anxious to get this subject ‘out there.’  But we commit to providing a more robust outline of study structure soon for all to see.

For the moment, here are the areas we see as at the head of the list:

  • Surveying/cataloging downtown businesses
    • Identify those that could experience benefit
    • Identify those that would not: banks, dentists, optometry, dry cleaners, jewelers, beauty salons, outer Pleasant Street, Cooks Corner, etc
  • Identify/quantify declines as well as increases in economic activity; eg, Concord Coach
    • Discretionary entertainment funds flowing to Portland, Boston, take away from Brunswick region
    • How many were traveling by car or bus before train, and simply switched modes; no net increase/decrease; simply modality
  • Freeport and Brunswick: which way money is flowing
  • Identify/quantify local capital outlays and recurring operating expenses
  • Establish methodology for accurately assessing ridership
    • how to count v. stations checked off
    • passengers v. tickets
    • exclude all Bowdoin students/staff
    • unless you are moving, round trips are the norm, which means each time you sign up for the train, you count as at least two riders.  eg: 52,000 riders for the year is really 26,000 individuals
  • Compare bus service: costs, flexibility, schedule, convenience, carbon footprint, connections
    • bus ridership
  • Compare use of personal vehicle
  • Document those asking for expanded service as described in annual report
  • Assess consequences of Brunswick as a dead end destination: would cost $20 million more to get trains 3 miles to the North to Cooks Corner area.
  • What the town could do with the $100,000 in annual operations support…calculate ROI against restaurant gross
  • Testing the assertions of NNEPRA:

The response to the limited Downeaster service to
Freeport and Brunswick has been overwhelmingly
positive, exceeding daily average ridership projections
by 50% in the first 8 months of operation and generating
millions of dollars in economic impact. Municipalities,
tourism organizations, private businesses, developers
and others along the entire Downeaster corridor are
encouraging NNEPRA to add more trips to meet
growing demand.
Of significance, ridership on the first
northbound train (681/691) increased by an average of
38% in FY13, and the last southbound train each day
(688/698) increased by an average of 73% in FY13.
Both trains serve Freeport and Brunswick, clearly
indicating that the expansion of service is generating
ridership on previously low-performing trains.


The Bottom Line

We believe that in the ‘executive summary’ version of this proposed effort, the merits of Downeaster service to Brunswick can be reduced to two metrics (or parameters, if you prefer.)

1)  Net Effective Adult Daily Discretionary Passenger Flow  (volitional train riders). 

What do we mean by this term?  First, it means that children below a certain age riding with paying adults do not matter from a measuring ridership perspective; they are not travelling of their own free will.  And it also means that ‘volunteer train riders’ like those from TrainRiders Northeast don’t count.

Second, it means that if you were going to make your trip anyway, and simply chose to use the train instead of the bus or an auto, your ridership is irrelevant.  You were making the trip regardless, and the train had nothing to do with causing it.  For example, if you’re a Bowdoin student or staff member, your travel on the train was a matter of choosing from the available options; you were coming here/returning here anyway. 

Third, the term ‘net’ means the difference between those who consider Brunswick and environs as their ‘home’ station, and those who consider Portland (or points south) and environs as their ‘home station.’  If there are 75 of each in a given day, the ‘net’ is zero.

2)  Net Effective Daily Dollar Flow

What do we mean by this?  We simply mean that some passengers are visitors to the local area and are bringing/spending discretionary dollars here.  Other passengers inhabit the local area, and are bringing/spending discretionary dollars elsewhere.  To understand the marginal economic activity caused by the Downeaster, one must carefully examine both figures.  If an incoming visitor on the train was going to come to the area regardless, the fact that he/she rode the train is irrelevant in terms of economic activity.  On the other hand, if a Bowdoin student or staffer takes the train south, or any other area resident does, the dollars they spend elsewhere are lost as potential expenditures here in town.

The ‘net’ flow is the difference between economic activity by visitors here in town, and the same activity in points south by those departing from this region.

If this all seems inarticulate and confusing, forgive us.  We know exactly what we mean, and trust that the economists in our midst can sort it all out.


Follow up study for “the interested student:”

“The Amtrak Inspector General has confirmed that Amtrak cooked the books to cover up food service losses that now approach $1 billion dollars,” Mica said.

Trains run by states in Maine and Alaska using private contractors have significantly lower labor costs than Amtrak does with its dining service employees, Alves said. The states pay $7.75 to $13 an hour with no benefits, compared with $41.19 including benefits for an on-board Amtrak employee.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Follies: Of Moguls and Parking Spots…and the BDC

Downtown Moguls: 


In November last we posted twice about the ‘improvements’ made to Maine Street in the name of pedestrian friendliness and ‘traffic calming.’  Here are the links:


noun: a bump or mound of hard snow on a ski slope.


We were referring, of course, to the ‘raised crosswalks’ or ‘speed bumps’ or whatever else you want to call them. 

Mogul, as it turns out, has another meaning appropriate to our circumstances:


noun:  3. an important, powerful, or influential person

That’s because the moguls that brought us the moguls on Maine Street, which have just been re-striped, are proposing to bring us another such improvement – this time on Pleasant Street, to handle the pedestrian crossing between the Post Office and the Library. 


We see this as a perfect way to slow you down so you can drink in the Village Review Board approved historic character of the rebuilt UU Church at the same junction.

Now all we need is for the moguls to add one more mogul on Maine Street south of Pleasant, and you won’t be able to enter the center of down-town without the the thrill of being calmed, which to us, is something like this:

Margo Knight, in a recently published commentary, assures us that the parking spots lost in the process of the improvements have been made up for, and that we will all become accustomed to the wake-up jolts.

Those who’ve lived in the area for a while know that there are any number of ways to bypass the downtown bottle-neck, and many of us have been doing so since well before the new enhancements were installed.  There’s  Jordan Avenue, Federal Street, McKeen Street, Stanwood to Mill Street, Union Street, and others as well.

An article published on April 11th about the ‘bumps’ offered some local views:

Mention the two sets of raised crosswalks that span Maine Street to a business owner or even a town councilor, and chances are good you’ll be met with an eyeroll or a snicker.

Meant to slow traffic across the four-lane wide Maine Street and make it safer for people to cross the road, the raised crossings have become a source of complaint and consternation of many who frequent and work in the downtown area.

“It’s a waste of $70,000,” said Jenny Station owner Jerry Bernier at his store on Thursday, which is near one of the bumps. “They don’t slow anybody down, except for fire trucks and ambulances.”

“I don’t know anyone who likes them,” said Brunswick Town Councilor Jane Millett, who now sits on the Master Plan Implementation Committee, in an interview on Wednesday.

Among the complaints she’s heard about the raised crossings is that they’re painful on the back, as well as vehicles backing up onto them when attempting to pull out of the diagonal spaces.

“At night you can’t tell that they’re there,” Millett said.

“Everybody complains about them,” said Bernier. “All the plows bottom out on these. I think they should just scoop them up and leave Maine Street alone.”

…..pedestrian safety is often in the hands of the pedestrians themselves. “It annoys me to no end when people jaywalk.”

Given the bypass options, and the fact that ‘calming traffic’ has the effect of restricting Maine Street traffic capacity, reducing the daily ‘throughput’ or potential customer flow, we think it’s time for some serious analysis of what effect the ‘improvements’ are having on activity directly through downtown and on the various bypass routes.

We inquired as to whether such traffic flow data might be available as a matter of course, and it appears that it’s not.  So other means will have to be used to measure the benefits.

Maybe the BDA would like to sample their downtown membership and get some data from where the rubber meets the road and the dollars meet the merchant.  They can ask those who define ‘downtown’ how much more ‘help’ they’d like from the moguls in charge of the moguls.

Downtown Parking Situation:


28 Federal Street

In the same commentary, Ms. Knight discusses the changes to downtown parking accommodations associated with the raised crosswalks.  She claims that more parking is now available downtown, especially considering “the soon to be vacant Town Hall.”  Apparently she hasn’t heard that CEI plans to build an office building on the former municipal campus on Federal Street, and that the office will house 60 employees.  Since the move from 28 Federal to The McLellan involved 25 municipal employees, we fail to see what the bright side of the parking situation is.  Surely there’s a pony in this story somewhere, but we haven’t found it.

Departure Center Operation and the BDC:

Wouldn’t you know it; after just posting about the new firm in town, Construction Fiasco, Inc, and their request for a $600,000 grant from the BDC, the town steps up and muscles their way to the head of the gravy train line.

We just read that our Interim Mr. Manager, John Eldridge, is asking for $225,000 from the BDC, presumably as a full grant, to pay for a five year lease for the Departure Center at Maine Street Station.  “The train station is not a money maker,” according to Eldridge, adding “Somebody will need to subsidize that; the town will have to find a source of money.”

If, by chance, you are wondering who ‘somebody’ might be, we suggest you look in your mirror the next time you’re near it.

You can add this expense to the budgeted figure for Downeaster platform maintenance and snow removal, which when we checked a year or so ago, was $50,000.

In case you’re wondering what the town’s obligations are in this regard, you can read the details in the agreement between the town, Amtrak, NNEPRA, and JHR development:

You’d think with the huge economic benefit the Downeaster brings to town, the various businesses reaping the incoming dollars would be picking up the tab for both, to ensure the golden goose keeps dropping off revenue eggs on a daily basis. 

The same article that reports on the town’s request points out that the BDC is running out of free money.  As we see it, that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with an appropriation or issuing of bonds by the town.  It’s only money, after all, and the town ALWAYS knows where to look for more.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New business established in Brunswick; Construction Fiasco, Inc, submits $600,000 grant request to BDC


A Soupcon of Theory to Provide Context:

You may not be familiar with the history of ‘quality control’ as a means of ensuring that a product, whatever it may be, fulfills its intended purpose; is worthy of the producer; and is a joy to own and use.

In the early days, quality control discipline took place through inspections.  It began by inspecting/testing the product before delivery.  If problems were found, the product was sent back for corrections.  Eventually, inspection steps were inserted at various mid-points in the production process, so that corrections could be made before the defect was embedded deep within the final product, and possibly wasteful further production steps were made.

A ‘total quality revolution’ took place decades ago, and was the major impetus behind vast improvements in auto manufacturing, enabling Japanese auto builders to eventually leave traditional US auto manufacturers in the dust.

The fundamental principle involved in this transition was that you don’t inspect quality into a product, you build it in.  The focus changed from finding defects in the product with greater efficiency, to eliminating them in the first place by appropriate methods of defect elimination and process improvement.  Every phase of a product, from design engineering to materials purchase, came under the purview of this philosophy.  ‘Continuous measurable improvement,’ and wide use of metrics became standard management terminology.

Eventually, because they had no choice, US manufacturers got on board, and we think most would agree that cars produced in the last few decades are vastly superior in all regards to the vehicles we grew up with.  Quality of design, quality of manufacture, and quality of materials have all improved by leaps and bounds, and reliability and durability have increased as a result.


Exciting News to Report:

In a Press Release received at Other Side offices today, we learned that a new building contractor calling itself Construction Fiasco, Inc is setting up operations here in Brunswick.  It was recently founded by the Cheatham brothers, Howie and Dewey, shown in the photo above that accompanied the release.  Stimulated by the announcement, we contacted the principals to provide additional background for this report.

“We see Brunswick as an opportunity rich market for our specialized skill set,” Howie told us.  “We’re mindful of the stringent demands of the Brunswick community, and that’s why we’re diligently pursuing TRS Gold Level Certification,”  Dewey added.

“Traditional contractors have promised quality work to get a contract, and some have even gone so far as to have an on site ‘clerk of the works’ during construction to see that things are done right.  Our approach is unique; we come in after the job is done, the project has been delivered, and the building has been occupied.  We renovate quality in.  Others may think it’s too late, but it’s never too late to make things right.  That core principle drives every aspect of our business model,” said Katie Ann Ching, CFO of the new firm.

“She’s something, ain’t she?  Everyone calls her ‘K.A.’ around the office,” chimed in Howie.

“There’s no truth to the rumor that we may be affiliated with other local builders,” K.A. assured us.  John (Johnny Protocols) Richardson, she told us, backs up the claim, suggesting anyone who would say such a thing has a hidden political agenda.

We asked what the local business opportunities looked like to the firm, and Dewie gave us these examples.


“First, take The McLellan.  We see real opportunity here, with hidden quality problems and obscenely expensive to operate mechanical systems.”  He referred us to this background info on the building (

This three-story, multi-purpose building is home to Bowdoin College offices, conference rooms, computer training labs, art studios, photographic dark rooms and storage space. The building is fully air-conditioned and features high-efficiency windows throughout.

Challenges to construction included the presence of coal ash on the site, leftover from the days of steam locomotives. The team had to encapsulate the ash before construction could begin. Then, steel piles had to be driven into bedrock to support a foundation that included 118,000 pounds of steel reinforcement to ensure structural integrity.

Set in a predominantly residential neighborhood, the shingle and clapboard building, with its intricate window trim, blends in well with its surroundings. 

He sent us some photos that reveal the kind of ‘aftermarket’ opportunities Construction Fiasco will home in on.

      DSC_0114  DSC_0113

“You know the old saying about high-efficiency windows and intricate window trim… our CFO, K.A. Ching says, you can’t expect these things to last forevert, and just how long do you expect to be able to see through them?”

“Next,” he told us, “there’s the Cooks Corner Fire Station.”


“This building was designed to last,” Howie added, referring us to this descriptive info:

The challenges: This project was the result of a design competition, sponsored by the Town of Brunswick. Ouellet Associates stressed the importance of longevity—constructing a building that could serve the community into the next century. To meet these goals we selected durable building materials that will require minimal maintenance.

(We confess to being in a quandary as to what ‘into the next century’ might mean when you build a facility in 2005/2006, but why pick nits?)

One man’s longevity is another man’s opportunity we suppose.  Apparently some ‘anomalies’ have surfaced at the Fire Station, as described in this report:

“Besides fixing those problems, we think the kitchen could use some updating to make it show better, and it’s not up to date with the latest fire codes.  Besides, the color scheme doesn’t reflect the chicest decorating trends, and we think it’s important to keep staff morale as high as possible.  So we’re proposing a new palate to bring crew quarters into this decade.”

On Sept. 25, a large crowd gathered outside to celebrate the opening of Brunswick's new police station on the corner of Pleasant and Stanwood streets.

Dewie went further, adding “we’re proposing to be put on retainer to deal with problems at the new  Police Station, once the inevitable occurs.”

“We’re looking for a proven local business consultant and a prominent, connected attorney to help us set up the deal,” he noted.  “We’ll even pay to have our company logo added on Brunswick Taxi vehicles.”

The Cheathams cited missed opportunities in the past that drove them to conceive this opportunity based enterprise.  They mentioned the local Post Office, which has spent at least 6 months on front step repair and ramp replacement.  “We would gladly have spread that work out over a longer time frame…say a year….to allow local residents to become more familiar with our work.  And it would have given us more time to meet our new neighbors.”

They also emphasized the importance of making critical renovations before buildings are demolished.

“The Old High School got away from us; we were just a germ of an ideal when it went down.”

“But look at the lesson the town learned with the old Times Record Building.  They bought it for $1.3 million, and quickly realized it would need a good half a million in improvements before it could safely be torn down and the site cleaned up,” the Cheathams pointed out.

“Now the town wants to tear down the Jordan Acres School, but it’s in no condition to be safely demolished.  You can’t risk the health and welfare of your employees in a job like this.  We’re confident we can repair the major structural and cosmetic problems to ensure a safe and TRS certified building removal,” Howie said.

The brothers have their eyes on the Federal Street municipal campus as well.  The existing Rec Center and now vacated Town Hall are slated for the wrecking ball to make way for a new building to house CEI offices.


“We see it as a matter of community self-esteem to have both buildings in tip-top shape before they’re wiped from the earth.  Proper staging and curb appeal are ultra-important when undertaking such an operation in a historic down-town neighborhood.  The buildings deserve to be treated with respect, and the neighbors as well.  Letting go, closure, and all the other civic anxieties come into play.  Done right, we think it can be handled as a celebration of Brunswick’s Downtown vitality, complete with appropriate festivities.”

“As you can see, our plate is pretty full right at the git-go,” K.A. Ching said, “but we’re already incorporating HBS School, the High School, and Maine Street Station buildings into our long range strategic plan.  It’s only a matter of time before our kind of expertise becomes a necessity, and we want to partner with the community as closely as we can.”


“That’s why we’re busy pursuing an unfair advantage in these important community pursuits.  In matters like these, where civic identity and esteem is at stake, it’s important not to let the recklessness of the competitive free market distort priorities.”

The firm is using all the local influence available to them to push for a $600,000 initial grant from the Brunswick Development Corporation, well known venture capital source for those with the right connections.

“We promise that our use of those funds will provide local jobs, and the more we’re given, the more jobs we can create.  The sky’s the limit from what we can see,” the CFO reminded us.

Suddenly warm memories of MRRA creating 17,000 jobs at the old Naval Air Station came rushing back.

As we ended our conversation, the Cheathams told us they were thinking of “Construction Now, Quality Whenever” as their corporate motto.  “How do you like it,” they asked.

We allowed as how it certainly seemed to capture the essence of Brunswick, at least in one important area.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Of Pawns and Coming Clean: Reality, Conflicts & Other Priorities

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:

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.



Amtrak MLF: reprising a Pols’ statement from 2011

We recalled the document we are about to present for you as we working on an upcoming post.


We first told you about it in this post, before the last election:

In that post, these words appeared:

Pols has submitted a partial response to the questions in this post.  For clarity, we’re going to repeat our questions, and follow them with his answers, which will be indented and displayed in red.  (We may have a parenthetical note or two mixed in.)

1. Do you think an Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility should be built at the Brunswick West location, adjacent to the Bouchard Drive neighborhood, and if so, why?

2. If not, where do you think it should be built?

Questions 1& 2. Attached is a copy of my remarks at a NNEPRA rail forum from August 2011. It was televised so I can't hide from what I said. Some of the info may be a little stale but I still believe what I said then, particularly with respect to Bouchard. I'm sure I could be convinced that the industrial park site is as good as Crooker. I haven't looked at that in close detail recently. In one sense I think building it in Brunswick at all is a bad move----they're just signaling this is the end-of-the-line. Will Amtrak want to extend north in 5 or 10 years without a new expensive, controversial layover facility at the new end-of-the-line? WHat will become our our fancy layover facility if the Downeaster runs to Rockland or Bangor?

Rumor has it the powers that be recruited a candidate to run against me in 2011 based on my having said this. But I got re-elected anyway.....

(Ed: the remarks Pols refers to can be found at the link below; we tried to embed the actual document here, but were unsuccessful.

We strongly urge you to read the document; it is extremely thoughtful, well-written, informative, wide-ranging, and dare we say, surprisingly blunt as well.  It captures the circumstances better than anything we’ve read, or written so far.  It’s almost enough to make you wish Pols was on the town council.  [That’s a ‘witty remark,’ for the humorless out there.])

3. Do  you believe the Amtrak train, all things considered, has provided an economic benefit to Brunswick?  Please explain your reasons for your position.

Question 3. Who knows? There's no objective data at all.

We were planning on simply referring to the document below in the upcoming post, but as we read it again this morning, we decided it gains relevance as things continue to unfold here in Perfect, and the politicking and posturing gets ever more conpolluted.


So we’re pasting it below in it’s entirely, and once again strongly urge you to read and reread it in light of recent events.  We remind you that the time stamp on this is August, 2011. (Please forgive the formatting challenge; it took us a while to get the thing embedded here.  If you wish to look at it on scribd instead, the link was provided above.)

Here it is:




Read it carefully, and see what jumps out at you.  What jumped out at us this morning was being reminded of the town’s direct involvement in and financial speculation in the Downeaster service.  Hell; public money is being used to pay $850 a week in rent for the Departure Center at the station.

Then on page 3, Pols clearly differentiates a comprehensive plan from zoning ordinances, specifically with reference to an MLF on the Crooker site being inconsistent with Brunswick’s comprehensive plan, while the Brunswick West site is not.  See the last several paragraphs on the last page, just above.

We commented on this last point exactly two weeks ago, when we posted these words:

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)

The passage comes from this post:


So for those who are into ‘conflict,’ there’s more than enough to go around.

Technorati Tags: ,,,