Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Booches, Pooches, and bees in bonnets

A Response to Emily Boochever

By Pem Schaeffer

You remember the Booch, don’t you?  She’s the kindly soul who put forth the fine example of harassment shown in our earlier post:  Not to mention a number of other efforts to chill civil discourse.

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Looks from here like the Booch train is at risk of going off the rails.  Maybe the harsh winter, with DEP hearings and OPEGA commissioning and LD 439 Consideration have weakened her underlying rail bed, and she’ll have to lower her speed while repairs are made.


Turns out Ms. Boochever, as she is known in polite circles, had a column published in The Ostrich on Monday, entitled “A Response to Pem Schaeffer.”  It attempts to refute or diminish our opinion piece in the same paper the prior week, which we posted for you here.

We’ll do our best to cite her assertions and comments, and deal with them one by one.

  • Pem Schaeffer’s commentary in the April 22 issue of the Times Record directly contradicts Senator Gerzofsky’s stated rationale for requesting an OPEGA (Office of Professional Evaluation and Government Accountability) audit of NNEPRA…..

We’re not quite sure what the Booch’s point is here.  We didn’t address Senator Gerzofsky’s ‘stated rationale,’ so we didn’t ‘contradict’ it. She can rail on about the subject, but she’s just doing it to hear herself talk, rather than responding to or refuting what we wrote.  We cited the OPEGA effort as an open investigation into NNEPRA operations, which creates a penumbra of uncertainty going forward

  • as Mr. Schaeffer demonstrates, the audit request serves as a sort of political Petri dish, a vessel in which insinuations, misinformation, and disinformation about the BLF and NNEPRA can incubate and multiply, with the ultimate goal of stalling the project and eventually killing it off.

Talk about insinuations!  Ms. Boochever has publicly demonized several local residents, and chased down background data on Brunswick’s incumbent state senator, who apparently angers her, as do others, we can only assume.  Her comments and actions are a ‘petri dish’ in which the politics of personal demonization can thrive, with the ultimate hope of eventually killing off opposition to her favored public ‘investments.’

  • This is not to say that the rail agency should never be subject to an OPEGA audit, but rather to suggest that NNEPRA’s operations give little cause for concern.

To begin with, Ms. Booch is trying to convince you that an OPEGA ‘audit’ is an exercise in green eyeshade review, where balance sheets are checked for accuracy.  Note the mention of an ‘accounting firm’ and ‘scrutinizing of agency financial operations.’

We can play semantics over the word ‘audit,’ but a review of OPEGA functions, as shown here, reveals their interests are far deeper and wider than checking the math.


OPEGA's Mission: (

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) exists to support the Legislature in monitoring and improving the performance of State government by conducting independent, objective reviews of State programs and activities with a focus on effectiveness, efficiency and economical use of resources.

OPEGA conducts objective and independent performance audits of State government programs and activities to ensure they are achieving intended results and are effective, efficient and economical. Within this context, OPEGA also evaluates compliance with laws, regulations, policies and procedures.

Using an independent perspective, OPEGA:

  • provides timely and credible information for identifying risks and making decisions;

  • facilitates positive change by recognizing excellence, recommending improvements and working collaboratively to assure effective action is taken; and

  • fosters a more complete and accurate understanding of State government through its reports and communications.


Besides, those familiar with credible enterprise/agency ‘audits’ in the higher sense know the term has a more profound meaning.  According to a professional with decades of experience in such efforts: 

“concerning audits, there are at least two types: financial statement audit and operational audit. The purpose of the former, financial statement, is to attest as to fairness of presentation of the financial position, results of operations and cash flows so users of these financial statements can make prudent investment decisions.
The purpose of an operational audit is to uncover waste, fraud and abuse, evaluate program and management effectiveness, e.g. are the funds being used effectively, are the funds being used for designated purposes rather than misuse of funds, e.g. staff massages or parties with public funds (MSHA).  OPEGA is obviously concerned with operational audits”

  • …to suggest that NNEPRA’s operations give little cause for concern.

We should expect nothing less from one who closes their column with gratuitous boot licking of NNEPRA’s ED and the founder of TRNE, their lobbying group, and spiritual father of NNEPRA.

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Oh, if the Booch only took the time to see outside her rose colored glasses.  She herself has written publicly suggesting that the NNEPRA Board should behave as rubber stamps, rather than overseers of the public trust assigned to the agency.  Inversion of leadership roles is a constant concern in such instances, where connection to day to day Department oversight is virtually non-existent, and the agency floats in a muddled mix of municipal, state, and federal programs and interests.  This is not a viable model for success.

How much are New Hampshire and Massachusetts contributing to offset Downeaster operating deficits?  Why aren’t fares set to cover operating costs?  Why is it that many state legislators, and surely the majority of the public, think NNEPRA is a federal agency, outside the control of State Government?  How much is being paid to Brunswick Taxi for transporting Downeaster crews back and forth to Portland twice a day, every day of the year?  Was that contract awarded competitively?

Why has management been unable to plan for and effectively address on time performance and weather related track maintenance?

The fares are set, by statutory decree, to ‘encourage use of this service.’  Imagine if similar law was applied to sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes.  Wouldn’t it be grand if state and municipal officials were compelled to set tax rates at levels that would encourage moving to Maine and Brunswick?  And encourage new economic development?  Regardless of what operating deficits such levels might cause?


Those familiar with the issues and agency operations since inception know there is much below the surface that calls for detailed examination of accountability and decision making effectiveness.

  • Mr. Schaeffer’s description of the actions taken by the Government Oversight Committee (GOC), which OPEGA serves, is inaccurate.

Ummm…we’re not sure what the author is getting at here.  We simply stated that the GOC ‘unanimously voted’ to have OPEGA ‘conduct a detailed investigation into NNEPRA’s operations.’  The unanimous vote is on the record; if the author has a problem with the words ‘detailed investigation,’ let her make the case that they are wrong.  We know she likes the word audit, but it seems like this is an objection without distinction or merit, as previously addressed.

  • Mr. Schaeffer’s interpretation of NNEPRA’s plans for expansion of passenger rail service to other Maine cities is speculative. It is clear that he has never checked his “facts” with NNEPRA or Ms. Quinn. 

Excuse me?  Later in her column, the author shoots herself in the foot with this passage:

  • “There is strong demand for rail service throughout Maine. Look at two bills making their way through this legislative session: L.D. 1174, which proposes “to study the feasibility … of providing passenger rail service to the City of Bangor,” and L.D. 323, “An Act To Provide Funding to the Department of Transportation [DOT] To Complete the Assessment for … the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad Line,” which NNEPRA supported as amended. NNEPRA seeks to collaborate with DOT and Maine cities to bring feeder rail lines into service and connect them to a strengthened Downeaster.”

Of course, strictly speaking, continued existence of the Downeaster is ‘speculative.’  Perhaps what we have here is a ‘failure to communicate.’  One of the quirks of rail operations is that stretches of track have formal names, and passenger trains that operate upon them have formal names of their own.  Words like ‘lines’ become confusing in many cases, such as when the author talks of bringing ‘feeder rail lines into service and connect them to a strengthened Downeaster.’  Whatever the hell that means; we’re not sure that’s a rail expert’s terminology.  Regardless, NNEPRA is charged with establishing passenger rail service, independent of what the track sections or trains themselves are named.

“Strong demand?”  From who?  Local and state politicians looking for truckloads of OPM to indulge their fantasies?  Real estate developers looking to leverage the profligate spending of public monies, without any evidence of merit?  Or calling for objective evidence of benefit in places like Brunswick?  Which subject Boochever scrupulously avoids, we should note.

The Booch might also look into these items:

and (

NNEPRA Holds Pubic Forum on Improving Downeaster Service

Published on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 13:54
Written by TRN Webmaster


NNEPRA held a public meeting on Wednesday (March 19th) to discuss the Amtrak Downeaster Service Development Plan. It was a well-attended public forum that focused on extending Downeaster service to Lewiston-Auburn, Augusta and beyond New England to New York City.

TrainRiders/Northeast spoke in support of multiple extensions, particularly an effort to connect Maine through Worcester to Penn Station in New York, where a whole new market for travel to and from Maine awaits.

TRNE published this comment on Quinn’s appearance before the town council two nights ago:

“She assured the council that the Downeaster service is confined to Brunswick through Boston and would not expand. If additional feeder services from other Maine cities are approved, they would most likely connect to the system in Portland.”

We don’t know about you, but that statement of and by itself seems to document things with a forked tongue.  Terms like ‘feeder services’ seem once again intended to confuse issues.  Is that a track or a train?  Is it a passenger ‘service?’

In short, while we base our view on published reports, assertions that NNEPRA and Quinn have no plans for expansion of passenger rail service are patently absurd.  Using the word ‘interpretation’ in this context is meaningless, especially since the supposedly authoritative sources themselves are all over the place with their comments and terminology.  Perhaps double speak is endemic to those who operate on two rails.

  • Mr. Schaeffer not only repeats the Bouchard Drive neighbors’ contention that the BLF will not reduce the number of hours that trains spend idling, he takes that claim to a whole new level, asserting that the facility will increase idling time to “perhaps” 30 to 50 hours a day.

What we wrote in our column is this:

“Construction of the MLF will increase the daily idling of locomotives in Brunswick by an order of magnitude, from 3-5 hours per day to perhaps ten times that amount.”

OK, let’s go over the basics.  NNEPRA operates three Downeaster train sets.  The current Maintenance and Layover Facility is adjacent to the Portland Transportation Center.  By our estimates, the trains are parked and idling for an aggregate of 40 plus hours per day (or more, under current circumstances of cancelled runs, etc.)

The proposed Brunswick Maintenance and Layover Facility will handle three complete train sets inside the building, and we understand a spare engine might be kept on standby outside the building.  Our operating assumption is that most, if not all, of the idling that currently takes place in Portland will take place in Brunswick if and when the building is built.

We’ve heard for years that shutting the engines down completely is not possible, practical, or advisable for any number of reasons.  Therefore, we should expect Portland practices to continue in Brunswick, until demonstrated otherwise.  And if the trains can and will be shutdown in Brunswick, they could and should be shut down in Portland (most of the time) using the same auxiliary equipment.  Of course, since no detailed operations plan is available, estimates are the best we can do.

Current operations result in idling of one train set in Brunswick between 3 to 5 hours per day (assuming scheduled operations occur.)  Increasing aggregate idling in Brunswick to 30 or more hours per day seems to us like ‘perhaps ten times’ the current amount.  QED.

At the broader environmental level, including carbon footprint, etc, whether the trains idle in Portland, or Brunswick, or a combination of both (plus future sites, like Lewiston), this is a Maine problem at lminimum.  And we won’t count on engines being shut down until we have conclusive reasons to believe that.  In which case we would expect concerned environmentalists to be yelling “why has it taken you 15 years to do something about this?????”

The Booch is free, of course, to replay her favorite FONSI talking points.  But since we never came close to mentioning such things, it does nothing in the way of responding on point to our column.

  • Finally, I believe Maine owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Wayne Davis, without whom there would be no Downeaster, and to Patricia Quinn, who has overseen the Downeaster’s dramatic growth in ridership and popularity and remains optimistic about the prospects for passenger rail in Maine despite the past winter’s challenges.


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To repeat, we find this closing gratuitous and obsequious, in keeping with the Kool-Aid politics of passenger rail these days, and the determination of a small group of zealots and elites to have the wants of the few financed by taking the assets of the many, using whatever trumped up rationale they can sell at the moment.  Could she be angling to get the MLF named after Saint Wayne?

Closing Argument:

Plaintiff has demonstrably failed to invalidate the premise of our case, and the arguments advanced to support it.  Therefore, our conclusion stands as originally presented:

“Regardless of the outcome regarding NNEPRA's SWPA for the MLF and LD 439, the plan to construct an MLF in Brunswick is fatally flawed for compelling reasons associated with location, timing, and rationale. Existing plans are premature, clouded by organizational concerns, and lacking in credible reasoning. Those responsible for overseeing NNEPRA performance should make respect for the public trust their top priority, and suspend or outright cancel plans of record for construction of the facility.”

Defense therefore moves for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiff’s charges.

The defense rests.



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One of these days we could all have a lively discussion over coffee or adult beverages about where Ms. Boochever fits in the pantheon of the train-loving aristocracy here in Brunswick.  For the time being, however, we think benevolent advice for her is in order.

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Yielding to the the winds of life might help her avoid the various alternatives for which she has shown a penchant in recent times.


There’s already enough smoke polluting our air these days. We trust Ms. Boochever doesn’t want to make it any worse.

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