Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Aren’t we all NIMBYs? Even here in Perfect?


One of the most frequent responses to the Bouchard Drive neighbors’ objections to having a huge, Super-WalMart sized industrial facility in their immediate neighborhood is that they are archetypical “NIMBYS,” noisily opposing anything coming to THEIR ‘backyard.’

We’re referring, of course, to NNEPRA’s proposed Downeaster Maintenance and Layover Facility, the subject of much local consternation here in America’s perfect little town.


The Bobbsey Twins, among others, often lead those who love to roll out this charge.  They infer opponents should “shut up and suck it up, that you have it coming for being so stupid as to buy property next to a historic rail yard.”  Even though the rail yard and related activity were scaled way, way back decades ago, before the neighborhood sprouted.

Cursed as we are with an active mind, we thought on this a bit.  And we asked ourselves, along with frank and earnest, aren’t we all “NIMBYs?”  Is there anybody, anywhere, who doesn’t want certain things in their back yard?  Irrespective of any ‘greater good’ arguments put forth by “community-minded” proponents of whatever it is?  After all, isn’t the ‘greater good’ simply an aggregation of the ‘individual good?’

If not, what the hell does it mean?

The precise definition of ‘backyard’ plays into this discussion.  Most of us have literal backyards, defined by our property boundaries.  At the same time, we all have figurative backyards, an amorphous and indeterminate concept by comparison. 


The list of things we don’t want in our literal backyard is virtually infinite; it’s our property, by damn it, and you have no business mucking around in it.  The list of things we don’t want in our figurative ‘backyard’ is not quite as extensive, but it goes to quality of life and domestic tranquility in the larger sense.  Here in Perfect, if you think about it, the list of ‘nots’ is huge, and the list of acceptables is very, very short.  We must maintain our pristine reputation as a center of intellectual, cultural, and historic excellence.

While we’re at it, those of you who don’t prize your quality of life and domestic tranquility, please raise your hands.  At the same time, we’d like to point out something else.

More often than not, the notion of not wanting something in ‘my back yard’ should more correctly be seen as opposition to that something ending up in anybody’s back yard.  We’re pretty sure no-one in the Bouchard Drive neighborhood and thereabouts thinks that moving the super-sized train maintenance facility over a few blocks, say into the McKeen St ‘backyard,’ would be agreeable.

No; we’re confident they believe the opposite; that the proposed MLF doesn’t belong in ANYONE’s back yard.  Instead, it belongs on a site appropriate to industrial activities, where the effects on individual quality of life and domestic tranquility are minimized to the extent possible.

All of this, obviously, fuels significant local controversy that juxtaposes the unproven benefits of Downeaster service to Brunswick against the personal interests of hundreds of local residents who have already felt the effects of the passenger rail service upon their personal lives.

So what, you say.  As those quick to roll out the NIMBY charge always point out, the Bouchard Drive neighborhood abuts a ‘historic rail yard’ dating from the 1800’s, and those who bought houses there should have fully expected NNEPRA would be coming along with an MLF plan.  So they should admit their lack of savvy in purchasing their houses, and suck it up in the interest of greater community interests.


Funny; if we didn’t know better, we’d swear we can remember folks who live in downtown ‘historic neighborhoods’ being concerned about the presence of druggies and vagrants on their streets, who among other things, threw their condoms and hypodermic needles in the bushes on their properties.

That group is the Northwest Brunswick Neighborhood Association. We first heard about them roughly 15 years ago.  The group advocates for a neighborhood loosely bounded by Pleasant Street, Mill Street, and Maine Street.

This is, if not the oldest, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Brunswick, and suffers from a number of problems.  Not the least of which is a significant number of multi-unit rental properties owned by absentee landlords, and a very high percentage of section 8 tenants.  Putting it mildly, it is not the most upscale section of lovely Cape Brunswick, as it suffers from owner neglect and a troubling demographic.  Read the police reports in the local papers, and you’ll quickly discern a ‘pattern’ among many neighborhood residents.

It’s our view that this situation has existed for decades.  None-the-less, there are some folks drawn to the area because of it’s ‘walkability’ for the downtown area, and the historic nature of many of the properties.  Gentrification is a major aspect of the neighborhood, as it is in so many older towns and cities in our country.  Inevitably, there is a ‘mixing period’ as this process evolves, and widely divergent ‘life styles’ come into conflict.  Stately homes in which significant renovation funds have been invested find themselves with frequent passers-by disposing of various trappings of life-styles different than their owners.

Shouldn’t they have expected this to happen?  After all, these areas have been drug and vagrant infested for decades.  This is ‘historic’ use of downtown areas.  Walkability; economic diversity; life-style diversity; it’s what makes downtowns so vibrant, and such a ‘rich tapestry’ of community life.

A bit of surfing led us to this site for the NWBNA:

If we didn’t know better, we’d say that they’ve had some politically correct marketing character added to their web presence, in order to seem more welcoming and affirming to any and all.  Their mission, we found, is this:

The NWBNA seeks to:
1. Enhance the character of the area as a desirable downtown neighborhood;
2. Maintain the integrity, aesthetics, and predominately residential character of the area and its historic structures;
3. Protect the environment and natural features of the area;
4. Encourage persons to buy, restore, and improve homes in the area;
5. Prevent intrusions which are destructive to the character of the area;
6. Promote neighborliness.

Surprise, surprise.  As we surfed a bit more for NWBNA info, we discovered that they recently proposed adding more in-town territory to their ‘area of influence.’   Witness this entry from their web presence:

The NWBNA Board has called a special meeting of its members to consider a by-laws amendment to expand the Association boundaries to include residences south of Pleasant Street.

Existing Article I Section II:

“THE NORTHWEST BRUNSWICK NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION (NWBNA) shall be in that geographic area in Brunswick, Maine bounded by Mill Street, the south side of Pleasant Street and Maine Street.”

Proposed revision:

“THE NORTHWEST BRUNSWICK NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION (NWBNA) shall be in that geographic area in Brunswick, Maine bounded by Maine Street, Mill Street, Pleasant Street, Spring Street, and the Downeast railway line, and to include all residences on Morse Court, the south side of Pleasant Street and the west side of Spring Street.”

Here’s an illustration of the change:

Ironically, this addition would incorporate the in-town neighborhood afflicted by Downeaster idling for 5 hours or so each and every day.  We don’t suppose this has anything to do with tamping down afflicted resident complaints by promoting over-riding ‘downtown benefits.’  To even suggest such a thing would be crude and un-neighborly, wouldn’t it?

At any rate, in keeping with the historic nature of the NWBN, we wondered how members would feel about new proposals consistent with the traditional community benefits provided by long-established neighborhood features.  You might have noticed that the neighborhood is bounded by the mighty Androscoggin, and features historic mills on both sides of the river that are cultural and historic landmarks to this day.

Not to mention the dam that sits just above the Cabot Mill.  While we weren’t here when the dam was built and the mills were first constructed and operated, we’re pretty confident that the circumstances result from the ‘renewable, sustainable’ energy available from the might waters themselves.  In fact, power generation still takes place at the location.


So we believe the neighborhood is a perfectly suited location for modern-day versions of environmentally acceptable power generation.  We’re thinking a few of these monuments to innovation could be located first in that lovely little park behind Tess’ Market, and next along the waterfront between Pleasant Street and the bridge to Topsham.  And how about that little ‘turn out’ parcel on the inside lanes of Mill Street?

Then, as older properties decline and beg for demolition, each could provide a site for more towers of excellence.

We trust NWBNA members would not object; they wouldn’t want to be known as NIMBYs, would they?  And while they might suggest that town zoning ordnances preclude such uses, we point out that the same ordnances precluded 60,000 sq ft train maintenance facilities, but were not enough to prevent the proposed construction of such a massive in town blight.

So before you consider registering any complaints, in-towners, suck it up, and remind yourselves of how you blew it when you bought your property without doing thorough research as to what the future might hold.  The mind reels.


We wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Senator Angus King, a long standing proponent of wind-power, and favorite son of Brunswick, would find sufficient pork rations in DC to get the project underway.  Think of the possibilities; passengers on the Downeaster flocking to Brunswick to visit the in-town wind-power attraction.


Brunswick Taxi running loops non-stop all day long between the train station and your neighborhood.  The thrumming heart-beat of Brunswick’s commitment to renewable power serenading residents night and day.  No more annoying crows and bats cackling away and intruding on your domestic tranquility.

You gotta love it, right?  You might even create a BDPA…a Brunswick Downtown Power Association.

One More Thing:

For those of you who want to argue that the proposed construction of the Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility next to the Bouchard Drive neighborhood is irrelevant to all but the small handful of area residents who were so dumb as to buy property there, we say “au contraire, mon trainamis.”

The facility itself is one thing,  Perhaps more important is the ‘service optimization’ it is intended to support, and the resultant increase in train activity that effects everyone between Portland and Brunswick.

NNEPRA wants to increase round trips between Portland and Brunswick from two a day to five a day.  A review of their own documents shows that their plan will result in train movements increasing to 20 per day between the MLF and the in-town station, as we described in earlier posts.

Further, not so widely publicized documents indicate that the MBTA intends to bring engines/train sets to Brunswick for a variety of maintenance operations.

This means every section of track, and more importantly, every grade crossing between the two towns will see a proportionate increase in activity.  And as we’ve described before, this activity will take place over 20 plus hours of each 24 hour day.

If you’re wondering how many crossings are involved, you can find the answer in this table, which is found in the Environmental Assessment done in 2009 to support the extension of service to Brunswick.  If you’d like to see the document, contact us, and we’ll send you the file.


You can make your own assessment of what the effects of increasing train traffic at all the Brunswick crossings will do the quality of life in your neighborhood.  Horns, noise, vibrations, fumes, etc.


But let’s talk about others for a moment.  Freeport, as you may know, managed to qualify their crossings as ‘Quiet,’ meaning trains are not required to blow their horns when approaching them.  If you’ve ever been close to one of these engines when they blow that horn, you have some idea of just how teeth rattling and jarring it can be.  Sleep through that?  Are you kidding?

Well, as we understand it, qualifying for a ‘Quiet Crossing’ involves how many trains a day are involved.  The more trains, the less likely you’ll get the nod.  So Freeport may in fact lose it’s Quiet qualifications, meaning everyone in the town and surrounding areas will suffer as a result of the MLF consequences.

Not only that, but Yarmouth has a real stake in things.  Their in-town crossings are problematic for many very close residents.  They just began an organized pursuit of Quiet Crossing qualification at the municipal level.

Again, the number of daily crossings is part of the formula.  The more crossings per day, the less likely you qualify.  So as NNEPRA increases round trips to Brunswick, and MBTA makes trips as well, the chances Yarmouth residents can get some relief begin to evaporate.


So the next time the “NIMBY” squawkers come out of their caves to disparage those who have a mission similar to that of NWBNA’s cited above, we wish they’d put a sock in it, if you’ll pardon our phraseology.

Because EVERYONE lives in some ‘backyard,’ and has certain things they don’t want there, whether they’ll admit it or not. 

And we’re pretty sure hypocrisy is not a particularly useful ‘community value.’  At least among real neighborly folk.

No comments:

Post a Comment