Wednesday, April 22, 2015

In a rare occurrence, the “Other Side” appears on The Ostrich opinion page…..

Some of you know this, but many may not.  “The Other Side of Town,” which most of you know these days simply as “Other Side,”  was named specifically to contrast itself with the establishment print media outlet here in Brunswick.  In case you don’t get the play, it has nothing to do with location, and everything to do with opposing points of view.

Well anyway, one of our essays appears on their pages today.  We’re running it here for your convenience, in it’s entirety.


Proposed Amtrak MLF: Wrong Town, Wrong Time, Wrong Reasons


Area residents know all too well that there’s been a major kerfuffle over the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s plan to build a Maintenance and Layover Facility in Brunswick. The huge industrial building (over 600 feet long) would be used to service and house multiple Amtrak train-sets, as well as train-sets belonging to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and possibly others.

Not everyone knows that NNEPRA is an agency of Maine State Government. Their proposal to build the facility in the Bouchard Drive neighborhood, at a total cost in the range of $20 million, has caused much local churning and chafing; some very public, and some in the Brunswick ‘underground.’ A recent hearing convened by the Department of Environmental Protection on the StormWater Permit Application for the facility, and hearings for a bill that would limit excessive idling of trains (LD 439, sponsored by Senator Stan Gerzofsky), have made it easy to get lost in the minutiae.

How many gallons per hour does the locomotive burn at what temperature? How much stormwater runoff will make its way to the Androscoggin River, and how much to the Brunswick sewer system?

Stepping back from this level of detail allows a look at the ‘30 thousand foot level,’ and doing so convinces us that the proposal is seriously flawed for much more significant reasons, and needs to be placed on hold immediately, and preferably, summarily terminated. Here’s why:

The Wrong Town

Patricia Quinn, the Executive Director of NNEPRA, has long insisted that Brunswick is the ideal location for the MLF, because such a facility belongs at ‘the end of the line.’ At the moment, Downeaster service is a straight line system running between Boston, Portland, and Brunswick. Boston and Brunswick are the ends of the line, and Portland is undeniably the hub.

This is temporary and a consequence of basic service, according to those who champion such modes of transportation. Ms. Quinn herself, little more than a year ago, held a public session 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, which lobbies for Downeaster expansion at every turn, and claims the service only exists because of them, is conducting a poll on their web site to establish where Maine passenger rail should expand (see es/stories/TrainRiders DE Plan.pdf).  Maine Rail Group, and other advocates for expanded service, are pushing to have service extended to Waterville, Bangor, Rockland-Wiscasset, Montreal, Bethel and several other locations.

There can be no question that none of these, including NNEPRA, sees the future of passenger rail as Brunswick being ‘the end of the line.’ Hence Quinn’s assertion that locating the MLF in Brunswick is the ideal is not only without merit, but an untimely judgment. Given the vast array of proposals for expansion, no one can say at the moment where such a facility belongs, other than in Portland, which will remain the service hub no matter what. The SWPA decision and the outcome for LD 439 have nothing to do with this.

The Wrong Time

The Government Oversight Committee of the Maine Legislature unanimously voted several weeks ago to have the Office of Program Evaluation and Governmental Accountability conduct a detailed investigation into NNEPRA’s operations. Those familiar with investigations of the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine State Housing Authority know they can lead to discoveries of serious concern, and result in calls for major reforms, and perhaps worse.

At the moment, no-one can say where the investigation into NNEPRA will lead, and what will be discovered. It’s obvious, though, that embarking on a major capital project costing tens of millions at this time is inappropriate and inadvisable. At the very least, plans to do so should be suspended until the investigation is complete.

The Wrong Reasons

NNEPRA’s Board Chair, in an attempt to forestall passage of LD 439, sent a letter to the Transportation Committee responsible for recommending disposition of the bill. You can read it here: 594/Eisenstein-to-Trans-Comm-6- April-15-doc

Eisenstein asserts that the MLF will eliminate the pollution caused by locomotive idling that has plagued in-town neighborhoods ever since the train came to Brunswick. Sadly, this assertion is disingenuous at the very least.

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. The ceiling of the MLF will serve only as an inverted collection funnel for the fumes and particulates, which will be drawn out of the building by unfiltered exhaust fans to fall upon surrounding areas. The result will be far greater health risks than experienced under current conditions.


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.


As a side-note to the economic benefit and vibrancy the Downeaster has contributed to our community, we pass along this tidbit from an article running in the Portland paper:

The overall vacancy rate for retail properties in Brunswick was 16.4 percent in January, according to a presentation by Mark Malone of Malone Commercial Brokers at a recent Maine Real Estate & Development Association conference.  The vacancy rate for retail properties in greater Portland was 3.7 percent, Malone said.

                  Image result for All aboard brunswick

While there are circumstances unique to Brunswick, some are good, and some are bad, we remind you.  All things considered, though, we can see why the ruling class wants no part of any investigation into economic benefits of the train coming to town.

On the other hand, they’re content to accept the premise of free lunches and tooth fairies.


That’s why Other Side will continue to chip away at the Potemkin Village erected by the BDA, AAB, and others in the Kool-Aid Klass.  (Any rumors you’ve heard that “AAB” means “All About Boochever” are, so far, unsubstantiated.)

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