Monday, June 30, 2014

A movie tip…..Jersey Boys!


Side and Mrs. Side just came from a 12:30 screening of Clint Eastwood’s film version of “Jersey Boys” at the Regal Cinema at Cooks Corner.

We both loved it.  Your correspondent thinks it’s one of the best movies he’s seen in some time.

It doesn’t hurt that we were born and raised about 15 miles from where the story is based.  Or that we’re ‘of an age’ where the music brings back a lot of great memories, as do the cars and other props that mark the era perfectly.  Sometimes these ‘set pieces’ from another age look too phony…they push the costumes, décor, and other signs of the times too hard, and it all looks contrived.

Not this time.  We’ll give Clint Eastwood, the Director and Producer, the major credit for this; he’s even older than we are, and he knows how to do this with appropriate finesse.

We saw the stage musical in Toronto, probably 4 years or so ago, and it was electric!  An infectious show, that even our daughter got swept up into after a song or two.


If your tastes run in this direction, and you have a chance to see it in New York or elsewhere, don’t miss it.  But if you can’t, or even if you have, see the movie too.

You don’t get the feeling it’s a ‘forced’ adaptation like you sometimes do with classic musicals in the past such as Mame, Fiddler on the Roof, etc.  Instead, the movie stands perfectly fine on its own, and adds much detail to the background of the group’s story.

So, we say, give it a shot!  The music is great, there wasn’t a dull moment, the finale was a real surprise, and no one left until the credits were completely finished….because the music continued to play until the very end.


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Friday, June 27, 2014

TRN: The unexpected, the erroneous, the self-absorbed; not to mention unseemly



It’s no secret by now that Side finds many of the details associated with the operations of NNEPRA and The Downeaster, and the activities of their devoted ‘creator’ - the non-profit’ affiliate TrainRiders Northeast (TRN) - to be of concern on many different levels.  From the specifics, to the connections, to the optics, to the finances, to the publicity, and oh so much more. 

We remind you that in spite of awards for being a stellar “business,” NNEPRA is an activity of Maine State Government, and the staffers are state employees.  Amtrak is operated by the Federal Government.  So make no mistake about it; whatever you think of them both, they are money sinks for both state and federal taxpayers, and we are compelled to keep them running, no matter the cost, until something changes.


Events of this week provided us with a new stick or two with which to beat the same old horses, and who can resist such an opportunity?  Certainly not this loveable pup.  You’ve got to take your exercise where you can get it; so we’re going to think of this as ‘occupational therapy.’


On Monday of this week, NNEPRA held a regular Board Meeting in Portland, which we’ve already reported on in part.  Saint Wayne the Visionary, Vicar of TRN, was on hand to make sure the proceedings were conducted in accordance with accepted ritual.  He filed a report shortly thereafter.

Saint Wayne manifests his vanity in any number of ways, including his obvious love for his image, and his role in coming up with the idea of a Downeaster, creating it’s infrastructure and administrative authority, and of course, requiring that Governors of Maine obtain his approval before nominating anyone for NNEPRA’s Board. 

Other than that, he’s just like you and I, except he likes to play with very, very expensive trains.  From time to time, he invites his followers to help him in maintaining and operating his layout, and to preach from the book of Wayne.

You’ll get a glimpse of the ‘chemistry’ between NNEPRA and TRN in his report, which is posted below, along with our comments.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Today's NNEPRA Board Meeting

Parent Category: NNEPRA
Published on Monday, 23 June 2014 19:37
Written by TRN Webmaster

The Downeaster has had more than a decade of uninterrupted, successful growth. However, these past few months have reminded NNEPRA that setbacks come with heavy-handed results. Let's get the 'ugly' out of the way first.

The Ugly

The recent spate of slow orders, the PanAm right-of-way rehabilitation of a road-bed that was pummeled by the harsh winter AND the ongoing construction of the Haverhill bridge finally showed up in the numbers this month. April's On Time Performance registered 35.6% with no train making it into the 80% category. May's OTP was 8%! There were additional factors that all combined to see 4,500 fewer regular passengers on the train ( group numbers-3,400 were withdrawn for this calculation): May saw some 24 trains annulled (cancelled), two trespassers struck, two fire department 'holds' due to grass fires (one of them was a false alarm) and no Bruins/Celtics playoff games in North Station's TDBank Garden.

Currently, PanAm is in an urgent tie-replacement triage that will eliminate some of the slow orders, but requiring the annulment of train #686 Wednesday, Thursday & Friday of this week. Some 2,400 inconvenience vouchers were issued to customers during the April-May period.( Must have been the right move because Amtrak has asked NNEPRA for details of this program with an eye to implementing it in their national system.)

The above is what we alluded to with the use of “unexpected’' in our post title.  Lots of bad luck, a winter no one told them about, and as you can tell, lots of ties that need replacing.  We’re not sure who is responsible for allowing the ties to get to the stage where they needed to be replaced, and caused slow orders to be enacted.

We’re pretty sure of this, however: ties that were in good, serviceable shape last fall likely did not become replacement items because of cold weather.  More likely, ties that need to be replaced now were already ‘deferred maintenance’ items last year.  If you’ve ever owned or shopped for rental property, you should know what ‘deferred maintenance’ is – a euphemism for the consequences of poor stewardship. 

As we understand it, standard railroad practice calls for weekly inspections of trackage (including ties.)  You’ve seen railroad ties; it’s hard to believe they could go from fine condition to needing replacement in a matter of months.  At 3000 plus ties per mile, that’s a lot of timber to neglect to inspect regularly.  Not to mention the bedding and rail itself.

Ugly?  You betcha.  But in our view, not in the sense the Saint implies.

The Bad

The Town Manager of Brunswick spoke on behalf of a unanimous Brunswick Town Council decision that NNEPRA address the diesel soot and fumes emanating from idling Amtrak engines at the Brunswick Station. In addition, a local resident testified to the impact she experienced living just a block and a half away from the station. Both the town manager and the resident expressed support for the Downeaster and encouraged NNEPRA to quickly address the problem. The NNEPRA board thanked both and Chairman Marty Eisenstein requested that the staff expeditiously present the board with recommendations - from head-end 480v power to reducing the amount of power used by the idling train set (power is needed to keep the Cafe Car refrigeration 'on' and for light cleaning of the coaches). In the winter, the engine has to idle outdoors in order to keep critical systems from freezing. It was pointed out that the Brunswick Layover Facility will resolve this issue but construction has yet to begin and is expected to take at least 18 months.

“The Bad?”  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, TRN?  Oh, wait, we get it: heretics who don’t worship at the altar of Amtrak challenging the sanctity of Chief Loco. 

This item is what led to ‘erroneous’ in our title.  The town council decision, and the letter that sparked it, did not refer to engines idling at the Brunswick Station.  They referred to the diesel soot and fumes emanating from the engines idling in the Cedar Street lot directly across the street from a residential neighborhood, and immediately adjacent to the Mid-Coast Hunger Prevention Program food bank building.  This wasn’t about a 10 minute layover at the station; it was about 5 hours of idling while parked there.

Apparently, responding to serious and credible health and environmental concerns is ‘bad’ when you’re a Choo-Choo lover.  Which is why they call any objector a ‘train hater.’

The Good

The Federal Railroad Administration gave the go-ahead for NNEPRA to begin construction of the Brunswick Layover Facility. The FRA accepted the environmental assessment - prepared by NNEPRA and its outside consultant to FRA standards - by issuing A Finding of No Significant Impact. The West Brunswick Neighborhood Coalition had led a fight against using the 130 year old freight yard for the Brunswick Layover Facility.  Executive Director Patricia Quinn commented that funding would now be committed and a construction schedule developed. Once this is done, the Community Advisory Group will be reconvened and briefed.

Patricia Quinn reported on the 3rd quarter of FY2014. Year-to-date some 411,498 passengers have been carried from July of 2013 through March of this year. FY2013's comparison was 386,910 passengers. Revenue numbers were similarly impressive: $6,557,559 for FY2014 and $6,123,664 for FY2013. One more quarter to go in FY2014.


As the meeting ended. A cake was brought out to celebrate Wayne Davis' birthday.

Wayne thanked everyone for singing "Happy Birthday" to him, but reminded everyone that this week marked a far more important anniversary - the creation of NNEPRA by the Maine legislature in June of 1995. This was the result of Wayne's steady hand on the throttle of this grass-roots organization.

Best to acknowledge both!

(emphasis above is ours; we rest our case, you might say)

It’s not hard to understand why the Saint labeled this “The Good.”  The photo pretty much says it all.  The Saint and his disciple glowing for the camera, while our own Interim Mr. Manager, referred to in “The Bad” just above, is bathed in the flattering light of a PowerPoint presentation.


This section is why we included the words ‘the self-absorbed’ in our title.  Frankly, we find the very thought of a government agency providing a cake to celebrate the birthday of their devoted and pompous lobbyist, at a public Board Meeting no less, unseemly beyond the pale.

If you think unseemly is a poor choice of words, you can pick a better choice from these: improper, unprofessional, unprincipled, fishy. 

We considered each and every one, because they all apply.

You know the old saying; sometimes words fail you.  Why don’t you go to your Thesaurus and see if you can find one that fits better.


And if that doesn’t work, you can always look in your Tyrannosaurus.  It’s from the age when passenger trains actually made sense.


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Sierra Club, the ladies, and the Choo-Choos


You know what they say; life is one big learning experience, and then you’re dead.

Here it is 15 years that Other Side has rolled in a GMC Sierra, and we’ve never once heard of a Sierra Club, or were invited to join it.  And just this week we discovered they have a chapter right here in Maine!  But you know how Mainers are; we like to keep to ourselves most of the time.


We made this discovery when we came upon a letter in the Sunday newspaper.  At the same time, we learned that our stereotypical view of males being the ones who are afflicted with the ‘romance of the rails’ is somewhat outdated.  Turns out there are also females afflicted with the syndrome.  “We are women, here us wooo-oooo-wooo!”


We remember the old bromide “the only difference between the men and the boys is in the price of their toys.”  We’ll have to send that off to our P. C. department for gender neutralization.

OK; so where were we?  Oh yeah…a letter in the Sunday paper.  Here it is for your edification:

Letter to the editor: Commuter rail service would be big energy saver

Kudos to Tux Turkel for his article “Power use tumbles as efficiency kicks in” (June 8), pointing out in detail to Mainers that efficiency is the answer to curbing energy use and lowering our carbon footprint.

In the wake of the Obama administration’s bold move to curb carbon emissions, now is the time to look at one of the biggest factors in climate change: tailpipe emissions. Road-based transportation is responsible for more than 28 percent of our global warming-causing pollution.

The regional transportation planning organization, PACTS, is now deciding how transit projects will be funded in the near future and beyond. As they contemplate the future of our region, PACTS members need to consider all modes of transportation, including passenger rail. With the success of the Downeaster, the Portland area needs to look at passenger and commuter rail.

With good planning, rail transit service can empower, focus and enable a successful urban area with human-scale mobility. We are not just an asphalt village. It is time to consider alternatives. It is train time.

Joan Saxe, executive committee, Sierra Club Maine


So where do we begin?  How about with a few simple and obvious truths.

The writer refers to ‘the success of the Downeaster.’  Success?  Well, it depends on what the meaning of is is.  If by success you mean operating at a loss of nearly 50%; a variety of accidents and fires along the route; massive rework of trackage that was just rebuilt at huge cost, due to, of all things, winter in Maine; passenger loads of barely 10% of capacity from Portland North; then perhaps your definition is being met.

She also suggests that ‘all modes of transportation’ need to be considered.  We agree.  We assert that anything the Downeaster can do, modern day bus service such as Concord Coach can do far better, more efficiently, more flexibly, more helpfully (baggage help, anyone?), with virtually no special infrastructure investment or maintenance operations.  And without burdening State Government with major fiscal liability.

Not only that, but buses currently in use can carry about 50 passengers, while they run far, far cleaner than Downeaster engines, as explained in this statement before the Brunswick Town Council last year:

Research of Clean Air standards for train locomotives, heavy trucks and buses such as the Concord Coach Buses has revealed the following; the “Downeaster” diesel locomotives are 60 times dirtier than heavy trucks and buses manufactured after 2007 when compared using the Fine Particulate Exhaust Emission standards, unless the “Downeaster” diesel locomotives have been remanufactured after 2010.

We doubt that Downeaster engines have been remanufactured.  And we’re real sure Concord Coach buses don’t sit around idling for hours on end between runs.  The engines may not have ‘tailpipes,’ but they spew the combustion residue of a 4,250 hp engine, while the buses are in the range of 300 hp.  So if the writer is serious about ‘carbon footprint,’ she might want to look elsewhere.  (We’re sparing you a repeat of the ‘go sell crazy somewhere else’ graphic this time around.)


Unless, of course, her sole motivation is love for the Choo-Choo, in which case there are other ways to indulge her affections.


Lastly, the writer asserts “rail transit service can empower, focus and enable a successful urban area with human-scale mobility.”  We suspect she may have been to New York or Washington, DC once too often, and has developed a case of urban area envy, which is not often seen here in Maine. 

If she thinks Portland qualifies as an ‘urban area’ in the mass transit sense, she better get a grip on things.  As transportation professional George Betke, our recent guest columnist, recently remarked:

Maine is an inherently highway-dependent state for which passenger rail has very limited applicability due to lack of concentrated population centers or corridors.

There is related news to report vis-à-vis her suggestion.  Today’s Portland newspaper has an article discussing a new commuter bus service proposal that would connect Portland to Cumberland, Yarmouth, and Freeport. You can read the article here:

A passage or three to pique your interest:

The proposed service is similar to the Zoom-Shuttle Bus inter-city bus service that currently connects Biddeford/Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough and Portland, according to the report.

It would cost $825,000 to purchase a fleet of four buses required for the service. It would cost $300,000 a year to operate the service, with fares providing $62,000 in revenue.

In Yarmouth, one of the stops would be the $1 million park-and-ride lot, which has 300 spaces. The lot has been mostly empty since it was opened last fall by the Maine Department of Transportation.

Take a look at the numbers for the bus, and the park and ride data, and you have no choice but to conclude that the average commuter has no taste for transport alternatives, even if they save $ and lower carbon footprint.  Surely those devoted to the latter should be filling the Yarmouth lot by now.

Along with a generally dismal outlook for Amtrak’s deteriorating financial circumstances, and the Downeaster’s marginal performance vis-à-vis qualifying for continuing subsidies, we’d say something else is going to have to be devised to grab the interest and devotion of ‘the asphalt village.’


Or maybe some signs and guitars could help change the laws of economics and human nature.


If you can’t change those, there’s always the laws driven by coercive utopians.  All you need to change them are pliable ‘public servants.’

Now, if we could just find the details on that club for Sierra drivers……

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tuesday Tidbits


Yeah, yeah, yeah; we know…it’s WEDNESDAY, for goodness sake!

We had intended to get this post done and published yesterday, but life intervened, as they say, and we didn’t make our deadline.  And we couldn’t come up with any cutesy alliterations to go with Wednesday. 

So just think of what follows as ‘day old’ product, at a reduced price.

Breakfast Joints:

We’ve been going out for breakfast on Saturday’s for decades.  We see Breakfast joints as a matter of habit as much as anything else.  Oh, you want good food…no question.  But you also want comfortable and familiar surroundings, staff who know you and you know, and very importantly, the ability to get a refill on your coffee without having to chase somebody down.

In recent years, Boot and Buckle, on 196 in Topsham, just beyond the Topsham Fairgrounds Mall and 295, had been our chosen joint.  So we were a bit verklempt when we learned a few weeks ago that it had been sold, and would be converted to Sylvester’s Sea Food Restaurant, to be operated by folks who previously operated in the Cooks Corner area.

We were told they might be offering breakfast when they reopened, and that many of the servers expected to stay on. They shut down for ten days or so to ‘redo the place.’  We expected a thorough changeover and a place we wouldn’t recognize.

None-the-less, we decided to check out the new operation this past Saturday.  At first blush, other than the sign out front, hardly anything had changed.  The same booths and tables, the same counter and stools, and the same cheerful wait staff.

Turns out the menu is fundamentally the same, at least for Breakfast.  And the same red dishware, with down-home chips here and there.  And wouldn’t you just know it, the prior owner Nickie (sp?) was cooking breakfast in the kitchen, just like she often had at “B & B.’'

After looking the place over, we concluded that other than a good scrubbing, the only serious changes were to the prior equine themed chotchkies, which had been replaced with nautical themed items.

We had a fine, familiar breakfast, and plenty of coffee refills from friendly faces.  Color us happy campers, at least on this account.

Amtrak Presence:


As we made our way across town yesterday, we spied this vehicle, which was new to us, and entirely unexpected.  You probably can’t make out the markings, but they read “AMTRAK POLICE.”  We first saw the vehicle in the parking area just to the west of the Mid-Coast Walk-In Clinic, across from the McLellan – our Town Hall.

When we did, it was stopped next to some cars, as if it was checking plates or some such official act.  We turned ourselves around and decided to see if we could make contact with the vehicle and speak to the occupant.

That was not to be; he appeared headed out of town, rather than to the proposed MLF site or any other accessible Amtrak area of interest.  We have no idea what brought the patrol to our perfect downtown location.  Perhaps reports of suspicious behavior from arriving or departing passengers; who knows.

Mary Heath/John Eldridge/NNEPRA:

We reported on the letter from Cedar Street resident Mary Heath to the town council and the Interim Mr. Manager, John Eldridge, in this post:

Surprisingly, the town council backed Ms. Heath up on her request, and John and Mary both appeared at the NNEPRA board meeting on Monday the 23rd to make her case.  By all accounts, both acquitted themselves very well in their remarks to the Board, and an action item was assigned to follow-up on Mary’s request.

We’ll have more to say about this meeting in an upcoming post, but for now, kudos to Mary for coming forward and following up, and to IMM (you’ll figure it out) for placing the town’s imprimatur upon her request.

Forecaster Updates on Incoming:

Regular readers know what we mean when we use the term ‘incoming.’  Recently we warned you about school construction cost increases in this post:

Separately, we noted the appearance of an item named “Graham Road Landfill Update” on a town council agenda, which sounded ominous to our practiced ears.

Well, you better make sure you have a bucket or two handy, because the water drop treatment on these items has begun, and we have no doubt we’ll all going to be getting much wetter.

Witness this article in The Forecaster on the landfill issue.  You know what a landfill is; that’s a ‘dumps” that costs a lot more than you ever realized.  Focus on this very big water drop:

Eldridge estimated the cost of closing the facility could be as high as $5 million.

Such estimates virtually always go up, up, and then up some more.  So think of closure as the equivalent of another new Police Station in a dollar sense.  The real question, though, as yet unmentioned, is what it will take to replace it, or otherwise come up with a new arrangement for dealing with our pay per bag habits.

We see alarms going off everywhere on this one, and a pressing need to raise the cost of bags by a factor of 2 or 5 to start a fund for the inevitable ‘unexpected expenses.’

Which will have to fall upon the shoulders of the same taxpayers that will pay to replace the ‘dumps’ we currently use as schools for our children.  This article in the latest Forecaster talks of the dilemma the school department faces.  Well, it’s not so much a dilemma as it is a challenge to figure out the easiest way to place the burden on the taxpayers who’ve seen a continuous stream of sizable annual increases in the property tax rate.

Well beyond that of any other towns in the area.  None of them, of course, are as perfect as we are.  But there’s always more perfection to seek out and finance, isn’t there?


Well, there you have it; ‘day old’ product.  But who doesn’t love day old critters like us.


Even if our eyes aren’t open yet.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cough, cough and Cedar Street–the day after….

Pursuant to the letter from Mary Heath to Brunswick’s Town Manager and Town Council, we stopped by the Cedar Street area yesterday about 1:30 or so in the afternoon.  We took this video of the Downeaster engine idling away; we were standing in the parking area in front of the Mid-Coast Hunger Prevention Program food bank.  The Brooks Feed & Farm warehouse is just on the other side of the rails, to the left of the engine.

Be sure to have the volume control full up on the YouTube embed above, and on your computer, so you can get the full effect of the engine sound.  You should be able to see diesel fumes exiting the rear area of the engine.  We were there for no more than 5 minutes or so, and we can tell you that we were still smelling and tasting the fumes at least 5 hours later.

We reported on Ms. Heath’s letter here: 

We’d very much like the Interim Mr. Manager and the entire town council to fix brown bag lunches for themselves, and eat them picnic style next to the tracks while old #152 (or its brethren) is there idling away.  And we’d love to interview them on camera while they are doing so.

Our experience puts the lie to repeated NNEPRA assurances that the engines only need to idle when temperatures are in the 40’s and below.  This is supposedly to make sure the diesel fuel doesn’t gel.  Which makes us curious why our son-in-law, who drives a diesel powered auto, and lives in NJ, doesn’t have to idle his engine in his employer’s parking lot during winter sub-freezing days.


Downeaster/NNEPRA business model: a Guest Commentary by George Betke


In our wanderings to and fro, hither and yon, high and low, in search of truth, justice, and the American way on your behalf, we encounter all sorts of interesting people and information. Such are the consequences of an insatiable thirst for knowledge, or from another perspective, the curse of an active mind.

Occasionally, we're fortunate to make acquaintances with someone exceptionally qualified to illuminate us on a subject area falling within Side's editorial sphere of interest, but beyond Side's sphere of expertise. This happened recently, thanks to our fine working relationship with a certain State Senator. You shouldn't have to guess who it is.

We're happy now to know George Betke, a railroad and transit professional who resides here in Maine. Following some discussion, we said we'd be happy to publish a contribution from him as a “guest offering,” and he readily agreed to provide one.

We gladly present if for your edification, and will append a few observations of our own at the end of his essay.


(Ed Note:  as is our wont, we’ve interspersed some graphics of our own choosing in George’s text.  We trust he “won’t” be too flustered by our doing so.)

Dear Mr. Schaeffer:

This commentary addresses most of the questions you posed in a June 7 telephone inquiry about my knowledge of Amtrak’s “Downeaster” and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s (“NNEPRA’s”) intention to locate an equipment-maintenance facility in Brunswick. As a railroad professional, I am highly sympathetic to residents’ concerns about the noise, odor and visual impact of a large industrial activity in a suburban neighborhood.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Update: FRA issues FONSI approving NNEPRA MLF Construction at Brunswick West

                  FRA Logo

Here’s the news: the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) as the final step in reviewing environmental considerations attendant to construction of a Maintenance and Layover Facility (MLF) by NNEPRA at the Brunswick West location adjacent to the Bouchard Drive in-town neighborhood.


Here’s the actual posted decision, which appears here:


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Closed-loop Blog Feed test succeeds!


In this post yesterday:  we told you we had modified the means for signing up to get email notification of new posts appearing on Side.

To see if the modification worked, we signed ourselves up for the email service, and thankfully, we just got an update message about the last few posts.

So it appears to work, which comes as a bit of a surprise, since we can get mighty disoriented when working in the html/web design domain.

Now that we have confidence in the ‘gadget,’ if you haven’t already done so, please sign up using the feature just below the blog title block that looks like this:


Thanks for following our efforts, and we hope you enjoy the experience. 

Or, at the least, find it provides the Other Side of what passes for news coverage in ‘traditional mainstream media’ these days.

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Stand-by for more incoming….


Speaking of incoming, which we did the other day in the “Cough, cough…” post, we heard a distant round being fired in this little snippet from the web site of a local newspaper:


In this case, of course, incoming means constant and substantial property tax increases as far as the eye can see.  And you thought we escaped the piper with a 3.5% increase this year.

Incoming will be accompanied by the standard rhetoric used to ‘soften the battlefield:’

  • “It’s for the children.”
  • “The longer we wait, the higher the price will climb.”
  • “The more we’ve looked at it, the clearer it becomes that renovation isn’t enough; we need a new school, plus the renovations to Coffin and BJHS.”
  • “We realize this is a tough burden to take on, but we’re confident that the good people of Brunswick will want to preserve and expand upon the excellence of our schools.”
  • “It’s for the children.”
  • “If we don’t take this bold and foresighted step, Brunswick’s incredible growth will come to a halt.”
  • “Rich Ellis has done a thorough analysis of the figures, and he’s convinced us this is the only rational choice we have.”
  • “It’s for the children.”
  • “In the long run, isn’t $65 million worth it to preserve our quality of life and that of our students?”
  • “It’s unfair for some kids to have the advantage of the new HBS School, and not others.  This is about equity, fairness, and social justice.”
  • “If we don’t do this, the Downeaster won’t come to Brunswick anymore.”
  • “It’s for the children.”
  • “I’ll gladly pay higher taxes if it’s ‘for the children.’”

Update:  We think it appropriate to add this snippet we quoted in a post last week; it fits our tone here perfectly:

“We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘these are our children,’ so, part of it is that we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.” Your kids belong to the government, so says MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.


Professionals with impeccable credentials, and well established credibility with the schoolerati, will be on hand to assist in ‘community consensus building.’


A few PowerPoint slides here, a few more there, and next thing you know, excitement builds for a brand new local monument that builds upon the unprecedented architectural ‘statement’ made by HBS School.  We know what it says to us; we’re guessing it may say something different to you.

Keep in mind that no-one in the ruling class here in Cape Brunswick has said one whit about the State paying for the construction of the new school, or renovation of the two relics.  Not even GoJo, the honorary Governor of our little corner of paradise.

So it would be best if you remember one of the established principles that apply in such circumstances.


Fortunately, you’ve got time to get your helmet on by talking to your employers, or whomever else provides your revenue stream, to let them know you’re going to require substantial increases to  hold on to your position.  

Don’t even think of moving to a nearby community with what will end up being half of our property tax rate; retreating is overrated.  And you’d miss out on all the pride involved.

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Admin: Updating E-mail Subscriptions


If you are among the many that had an automatic email subscription to Other Side, thanks.

For some reason, the Feedburner service that provided this notification went on the fritz.


So we’ve taken steps to resolve things.  If you look in the upper right corner of the home page, just below the Title Block, you should see a “Follow by Email” gadget.

Type your email in the box provided and click submit, and we’ll both hope the service works.  It should notify you on a once a day basis if any new posts have been added in the most recent ‘day.’

Please let us know if it is working correctly for you, or the opposite.


P. C. Poppycock

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Friday, June 13, 2014

You gotta be kidding…..


Hopefully you remember this recent post:, in which we announced that MaineBiz had won our coveted five-backside award.  We had further thoughts on the subject here:

Now it turns out that we need to dish out another five backside award, this time to “Freeport USA,” which we assume to be a Chamber of Commerce style group that promotes Freeport’s ‘business’ community.  As you will see, the term ‘business’ is a real stretch.


Why?  Because we just came across this news item on the NNEPRA web site, in which that Buddy Holly girl, Patsy Quinn gets to take another bow.

Amtrak Downeaster named 2013 Business of the Year by FreeportUSA


Freeport, Maine – FreeportUSA has named the Amtrak Downeaster as the 2013 Business of the Year which recognizes a Freeport business that implements outstanding business practices and is remarkable for its longevity, growth, innovation, and contributions to community-oriented projects. The announcement was made at their Annual Meeting and Awards Celebration.

“We’re delighted to recognize the outstanding successes of the Amtrak Downeaster. It’s through their efforts that Freeport continues to grow and evolve as a premiere destination to shop and play.” Says Kelly Edwards, Executive Director of FreeportUSA.

"We are pleased to be recognized for the impact that the Amtrak Downeaster train service has had on Freeport and we continue to focus on growing ridership and increasing service north of Portland to Freeport and Brunswick”, Patricia Quinn, Executive Director of NNEPRA.

Is it any wonder that the general public is fed up with the self-serving, self-aggrandizing behavior of those who live off taxpayer funds, and who largely behave as if they have no-one to answer to?  More and more, instead of ‘public servants,’ they act like ‘public royalty,’ and our People Magazine & Social Media obsessed culture laps it up like so much ambrosia from our benefactors.


Frankly, Side is mad as hell over this, and we could say ‘we’re not going to take it anymore,’ but there’s nothing we can do to fulfill that threat.  All we can do is try our best to inform you of the bizarre behavior that passes for normal in our day and age, and, we are convinced, will sooner rather than later bring an end to a formerly rational (at least somewhat) societal framework.  And all semblance and expectations of sanity that go with it.

To begin with, Amtrak, the Downeaster, and NNEPRA and Patsy Quinn have nothing to do with ‘business,’ at least as that term is commonly understood.  But perhaps like so much other plain English of our earlier years, it’s being redefined to match cultural ‘narratives.’

Amtrak is clearly a government entity, and a massively subsidized one, and the Downeaster fits within that box.  NNEPRA is created by Maine Statute -

Here is the opening passage of that section:

§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.

Do you see clearly what it says?  Or do we have to spell it out for MaineBiz and Freeport USA?

NNEPRA, it says, is a ‘body politic,’ that it’s ‘purposes are public,’ and that it is ‘performing a governmental function.’

Coupled with the obvious nature of Amtrak, we simply cannot believe that any rational adult could deem that the Downeaster, NNEPRA, or Patsy Quinn could qualify for any award related to ‘business.’

The flaw is that we said, as you might notice, any RATIONAL adult.  We conclude that no such individuals are involved in this process.  Ain’t that great?

Before we dissect the words used in the award, we want to remind you that the owner of Petrillo’s Restaurant, adjacent to the Freeport Amtrak station, when pressed by a TV reporter, stated that he had noticed ‘a slight uptick’ in business since the train began coming to town.  Which we took to be a euphemism for ‘not a damn extra nickel,’ to make the local authorities happy.

We also wonder how much the Town of Freeport is kicking in to operate the train station, the related parking lot, and the visitor’s center.  In Brunswick, that’s about $100,000 per year.

Now let’s look at the language in the award citation:  “which recognizes a Freeport business that implements outstanding business practices and is remarkable for its longevity, growth, innovation, and contributions to community-oriented projects.”  Phrase by phrase.

  • “Freeport Business:”  As we’ve already asserted, the Amtrak Downeaster is not a business, but even if it was, the fact that it stops in Freeport hardly makes it a Freeport business.
  • “Outstanding business practices:”  Again, not a business,  but even if it was, a 45% operating loss qualifies it for a label of disastrous, not ‘outstanding.’  Or for the more sensitive, ‘unsustainable.’
  • “Remarkable longevity:”  Yup…it’s been running for a year and a half now, still in it’s honeymoon phase.  We’ll see if the inevitable growth in costs makes it even a bigger loser.
  • “Remarkable growth:”  If you believe the hype.  Starting at zero, of course, provides a meaningless baseline.  We ask for proof.  Not blather; proof.
  • “Remarkable innovation:”  Are you freakin’ kidding us?  What’s innovative about running at a 45% loss, and surviving only because of coercive taxpayer subsidy?  Forgive us; that’s a stupid question in this day and age.
  • “Contributions to community-oriented projects:”  Surely they jest.  The only thing we can think of here is that the requirement for a community funded visitor’s center must be what they’re referring to, and that would be a ‘contribution’ by Freeport, not the Downeaster.


In other words, they can stop playing “Always look at the bright side of your life” on the Freeport USA piano.  We’d prefer a little sanity from our local elites and community leaders.  For a change.


Who knew you could get Brunswick Sausage in Freeport, too?  Must be the sausage maker is taking his cue from our good friends at Frosty’s, and expanding to meet the seemingly unlimited demand for the BS product.

Next thing you know, BS Inc. will be looking for a grant from the BDC.

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Paging The Shadow….and The Count?


We were perusing the Forecaster at our favorite lunch joint today, and came across these paragraphs at the end of the lead story on the House District 50 Primary race:

Last month, Sartoris stepped down from the Brunswick Sewer Board of Trustees, claiming that a conflict of interest provision in the Town Council's appointment policy was being used by the chairman of the town's Republican Committee to cast her in a negative light during the primary.

The controversy reached a high pitch in the final days of the election, after an email from Sartoris to the head of the Brunswick Democratic Committee in which she sharply criticized the ethics of Tucker's campaign tactics appeared on a local blog, leading to a debate over ethics on a local radio station on Saturday.


We don’t have time to survey the local blog universe to see who they might be referring to, nor do we know how large that universe is.  We know town council chair Benet Pols has one; who knows how many others do?

So, readers, you who have a far more sensitive finger on the pulse of the town than we do, if you have any insights on this report, please let us know.

Simultaneously, we’ll hope The Shadow checks in, because Shirley he knows.


Or maybe we should check with the Count, or  his cousin, the Re-Count.  Maybe they could play a few high-pitch notes and see what turns up.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

June 16 Council Meeting: cough, cough - Cedar Street; cough, cough - The McLellan


As Chance led us to do, we just took a look at the Agenda for the Brunswick Town Council Meeting this coming Monday, June 16th.  Two items on that Agenda merit being passed along for your edification.


The first is this under “Manager’s Report:”

(c)  Update on idling trains in Brunswick

It’s on the Agenda because of an emailed letter from Mary Heath to town officials:


From: Mary Heath
Date: June 6, 2014, 1:51:01 PM EDT

To: "John Eldridge
Cc: Jane Millett

Subject: Amtrak Train Idling at Cedar Street

Dear Mr. Eldridge,

I am writing to request that as the Brunswick Interim Town Manager you write to NNEPRA
requesting the installation of a Commercial Power Supply to Amtrak engines during their
layover periods in Brunswick at the Cedar Street location.

Currently Amtrak Diesel engines idle seven days a week for up to six hours on the tracks near
Cedar St., from approximately 12:55 to 5:50 pm.

It has been well documented that the exhaust from these old dirty engines, manufactured prior
to 2002, is highly toxic and pose a cancer risk greater than any other air pollutant. Diesel
exhaust has been categorized by The World Health Organization as a known carcinogen.These
engines would violate EPA standards and be in violation Federal law if build today. As a RN I
currently working in a practice that specifically focuses on preventive health. I consider this
violation unfair, unjust, unhealthy, and unacceptable.

In August, 2012 the FRA was granted a Categorical Exclusion for construction of a siding track
near the Bouchard St. neighborhood to allow Amtrak trains to sit and idle during layovers. The
FRA stated an auxiliary power source was to be provided. That was never done. Patricia Quinn
stated in a e mail to a member of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition in October,
2012, that “NNEPRA doesn’t intend to put power out there this Fall.” Trains have been idling
ever since; for the past 3‐4 months on the tracks just west of Brooks. I am aware that a power
source can only be used when temperatures are above 40 degrees F. At that point the engine
will automatically shut on. However the summer months are when windows are open and folks
are outside enjoying their gardens and yards. Cedar St also experiences a lot of foot traffic to
and from downtown.

My neighborhood consists of families with young children from toddlers to elementary school
age children to people in their late eighties. One of my neighbors is expecting a baby in July.
Theses are the people most vulnerable to the effects of these toxic fumes.

There is a precedent for a commercial power source near Cedar Street. In 2004 a so called
“temporary train station” installed in the DOT lot between what in now Downeast Energy and
the bridge over Spring St. It was cleared for parking and passenger access to the train going up
to Rockland in the summer. All the vegetation, including mature trees, were removed to
accommodate up to 200 cars. ( it remains an eye sore today.) Neighbors were never notified.
My councilwoman at the time, Barbara Demaris had no knowledge of this, nor evidently did the
the Town Manager! Trains idled for hours on end. Several neighbors vigorously complained
about the fumes and the noise. Mat Eddy, a Town Planner at the time, worked with the train
people and a commercial power outlet was installed. It was a tremendous relief!

The NNEPRA’s answer to idling trains has been to build a Maintenance Train Facility on the
tracks near Bouchard Street. As you know the opposition to that proposal has been well
organized, clear and well documented. The FRA decision is still pending. Even if a MLF is built it
will be a long time before it becomes operational. There is mitigation work to be done, also
significant track work down the line in order to make it possible. Meanwhile we are exposed on
a daily basis to these dangerous fumes.

My neighbors and I would appreciate your support in this matter and ask that you make a
request for a Commercial Power Source to NNEPRA for Amtrak trains currently idling near
Cedar St. There are CMP power lines close to where the Amtrak train idles.The current situation
has gone on too long. It can be resolved.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Mary Heath
10 Cedar Street
Brunswick, ME 04011



The second has to do with finishing the work on our “new” Town Hall:

73. The Town Council will consider adopting a “Resolution Amending the 2013-14 Budget to Appropriate an Additional $150,000 for the Purpose of the Designing, Renovating, Equipping and Occupancy of the McLellan Building for Municipal Use,” and will take any appropriate action. (Manager)

We’re passing these along because Shirley you’d want to know about them. 

Or so Chance says.

PS: we have a feeling that this item under the Manager’s Report belongs under “stand by for incoming,” but there is no amplifying data in the packet:

(d)  Update on the Graham Road landfill issues

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Side pops-up on The Ostrich

For the first time in longer than we can remember, we had an item appear on the op-ed page of the Times Record today.

The link is this:

We weren’t permitted to view it ourselves on the web, but we’re confident that what we’re attaching below is the text as it ran:

To the Editor:

My entire career was spent working on Navy shipbuilding programs, and specifically ships built at BIW. I worked with BIW directly, beginning in the early 80's. I've also spent many years following the governance of Brunswick. Lastly, I track things going on in Augusta to a modest degree.

This experience leads me to question a number of assertions made by Gary Anderson in his commentary of June 5th called “Converting to Diversification.” Let me take them one by one:

  • “BIW’s expressed embrace of “non-military non-defense oriented projects” was roundly celebrated and then soon forgotten as Clinton opted for globalization over homeland jobs.”

I have no personal recollection of such BIW 'embrace,' nor it's 'celebration.' I would appreciate Gary's citations to substantiate these claims.

  • “In 2013, BIW would have finally diversified into a globalized wind turbine manufacturing leadership position — until Paul LePage opted for a his-way or no-way vision of Maine’s economic future.”

Similarly, I'd appreciate proof that BIW was about to become a leader in wind turbine manufacturing, and how Governor LePage personally and specifically negated that transition.

  • “Those invested in the defense industry, however, long immune to capitalism, are suddenly vulnerable to a full blown case of losing market share.”

As someone who spent his entire career in the defense industry, I suggest the author, who has not, is vastly unqualified to comment on 'capitalism' and 'market share' in this regard. His established reputation as an anti-capitalist adds to this appraisal.

  • “Despite loss of military families, Brunswick school and municipal building projects flourish. Looking at Brunswick’s growth, one might almost entertain the thought that maybe what Bath needs for development is “Goodbye BIW.””

These are bizarre thoughts. The only things 'flourishing' in Brunswick are municipal and school department spending. “Growth” is a stretch beyond imagining. Suggesting that BIW closure would be good for Bath (and the region) is destructive, highly offensive thinking.

  • “BIW is suddenly bursting with activity, an economic engine fully fired up like no tomorrow.”

A review of BIW's employment history, topping 11,000 at its peak many years back, would show that this claim is way off base, unless you have a window of months, not years and decades. Words like 'fired up like no tomorrow' are hyperbole employed for rhetorical effect, not accurate characterization.

  • “Here in Maine, there is growing interest in Connecticut’s model.”

I have no knowledge of such 'growing interest,' so I'd appreciate the author's illumination on this matter.

I have no doubt that Mr. Anderson is sincere in his views, but so am I. More important than sincerity is credibility. I hope he substantiates his offerings far better in future columns.

Pem Schaeffer

Pem Schaeffer is a retired Business Development Leader who lives in Brunswick; he blogs at

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