Monday, April 7, 2014

Random Thoughts on Tonight’s Council Meeting

Herewith a collection of thoughts pertaining to tonight’s Brunswick Town Council meeting in which the subject of a letter to the FRA asking for a full EIS will be discussed, debated, and voted upon (backbones willing.)

  • The only issue being discussed tonight is this:


  • The FRA process is currently at the decision point below box 6, and has to decide whether to choose box 7 as the next step, or box 8. 
    • Note that choosing box 8 calls for a more thorough environmental review process, with increased public involvement, but that either choice ends up eventually getting to the last box in the chart.
    • The discussion has nothing to do with denying train service.
  • The state officials who run NNEPRA; their ‘why we love trains’ subsidiary TrainRiders Northeast; and various other Downeaster advocates will do their best to turn this into a ‘they just hate the trains’ fest.  Coupled with ‘we’ve bent over backwards to be open and cooperative through this whole process.’
    • How would they take to assertions that they ‘hate Brunswick West neighborhood residents?’
    • Or that NNEPRA should have “known this would happen?”  And why didn’t they deal with the MLF issue BEFORE committing to Downeaster service to Brunswick??
    • This is the same TrainRiders Northeast (TRN) that told the Governor’s Office that THEY choose the candidates for NNEPRA board positions, and then the Governor selects one of their hand-picked options.  Because ‘this is the way it’s always worked.’
    • This is the same TrainRiders Northeast that worked hard to see that the Governor’s nominee would not be approved by the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation, and that has been working overtime to defeat him in the vote of the full Maine Senate.
  • NNEPRA, with the help of TRN, will try to force the discussion to anything but a simple request to the FRA to opt for the EIS choice, ensuring that a thorough, fully vetted environmental review is performed before construction begins.
    • Why is that, do you suppose?  Are they afraid of what the EIS might yield in the way of results?  That troublesome facts might emerge?
    • Are they worried about a delay to the MLF project?  Why?  Portland has been operating for 14 years without an enclosed MLF!
    • Are they worried about the added cost?  Why; the FRA pays for the EIS if that is their decision. 
    • Any expressed concerns about cost are not credible to begin with; MLF cost has grown from $4 million to $12 million and is likely to reach $16 million before you know it.  The entire passenger rail operation is fiscally unsustainable by any measure, and has been living off massive subsidies since inception.  Those who worry about Amtrak cost are a little ‘late to the party.’
  • NNEPRA and their affiliate TRN will do their best to back the town council into a corner, claiming that moving forward with the letter of request will be a clear indication of non-support for the Downeaster.  Soon service will stop, and the Maine Street Station dream will die.  Get out the black crepe paper.
  • NNEPRA and its Downeaster are a single issue, stovepipe operation.  All they care about is revenue and keeping the Downeaster running for the years they committed to.
    • Taking a broader view of train operations overall for greater regional and statewide economic development purposes means nothing at all to them, nor to TrainRiders Northeast.  Just look at their name!


  • In all likelihood, no one will mention this glorious scenario happening 12 or even 20 times a day at Stanwood and Union Street crossings once the MLF is built.  (We wonder how this has effected jostling for office location in the new town hall.)
  • In all likelihood, no-one will passionately defend this claim:
    • “the comeback of rail is essential to our country's economy and the wellbeing of its citizens.
  • We doubt that any volunteers at the Station Departure Center will admit stating that:
    • idling trains are bothersome, noisy, smelly, vibrating; pollute the air ‘throughout Brunswick;’ and disturb unfortunate neighborhoods.
    • or admit that running trains are even more so than idling trains.

  • But we do expect some to embrace the view that “they deserve it.”  How lovely and community minded.


Let’s move on to talking about the town council themselves.  Be on the watch for a windsock behind the council table to monitor which way the breeze is blowing in the room.  Or maybe multiple windsocks makes more sense.


  • We’re glad the meetings are recorded for posterity, because tonight will be a meeting effecting ‘legacy.’ 
    • Will councilors want their legacy to be that they couldn’t stand up for a chance to consider broader possible benefits to the town, the region, and the state?  Will they instead show their support for a rush to judgment that precludes longer range thinking?
    • Will they support a more thorough assessment before the domestic tranquility and health of in-town neighborhoods and residents are sacrificed?
    • Or will they bow to the wishes of those who think such things don’t matter when ‘loving trains’ is all you can think about?
  • What will new councilors do? 
    • Will one whose career involves trumpeting the advantages of living in Brunswick, with its ‘best’ schools, stand up for in town neighborhoods and a stable tax base?
    • What of one who has spent his career in the environmental field; will he decide now is different, that environmental impact is not a priority any longer?  Does he embrace protection of vernal pools, but not see neighborhood health and quality of life as relevant?
    • And since this one is also a member of the House of Sartoris, whose matriarch is running for the Maine Legislature, is he vulnerable to arm-twisting from Councilor Johnny Protocols?  Could a vote against an EIS be the cost of GoJo’s help and endorsement for her run?
  • And what of the others?
    • How many will toss aside ‘quality of place’ for hundreds of families as they bow to other political interests?
    • How many will show courage?
    • And how many will show cowardice, by voting ‘present,’ or abstaining, or recusing themselves, or moving to table the issue so as to kill it in the face of an overflow crowd?


  • How many will see in this situation an eerie similarity to The McLellan fiasco, in which preliminary inspections and reports were essentially ignored, and we ‘moved forward’ because it sounded good, and now we have to come to grips with that less than diligent transaction?  Just like the old Times Record fiasco.
  • How many know what’s really going on?  And will see through the theatricality?

One more time, just for the record, THIS is the subject of tonight’s agenda item.  The basic facts are simple, clear, and eminently understandable.


The consequences of tonight’s council action, on the other hand, are huge, long-lasting, and largely irreversible.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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