Saturday, October 12, 2019

NNEPRA’s Royal Siding Scam confirmed, and no-one really cares. Oh well, it’s only $10 million…..

In April last year, the Press Herald ran a column of ours; you can find it here:
It began this way:
“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.” – Milton Friedman
We posted on it, including a couple of follow up posts that provided additional detailed information about the claims made in the above column.  You can see them here:
If you are a dedicated reader, or even just an interested student, you might review all of the above, and we would be truly honored if you do.

If not, we can summarize things for all the above with a few key points:
  • NNEPRA claimed that the $10 million Royal Siding Project is a necessity to grow Downeaster Round Trips between Portland and Brunswick from three (3) to five (5).  NNEPRA published rationale for the project, and it included this very clear assertion:

  • To be clear, their claim was that round trips could not be increased unless the siding was built.
  • We argued, with the help of a true railroading expert, that there was no need for the project, because several passing alternatives in the vicinity could provide the needed flexibility to accommodate increasing the round trips.
  • We described how we had submitted written requests, with very specific detailed arguments, to all involved authorities in Maine State Government, asking for a detailed review of the need for the project before proceeding.  And we received not even a trickle of a response.
Well, it turns out that we were correct; the Royal Siding Project was unnecessary to expand Round Trips to/from Brunswick from three to five.  Accordingly, it was a waste of $10 million in taxpayer money.

How do we know?  Because of two simple realities:

First, NNEPRA expanded the number of round trips from three to five on November 12th of last year, well before the siding was even expected to be completed.  They announced this in a release on their web page with these words:
“The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), managing agency of the Amtrak Downeaster passenger rail service, has announced more train service to Freeport and Brunswick beginning Monday, November 12, 2018. Beginning November 12, two (2) additional round trips will serve Freeport and Brunswick on weekdays (5 round trips total), with one additional trip on weekends (4 round-trips total).“
Here’s the link:
Second, NNEPRA has made it clear that the Siding Project will not be completed until at least one year after the expansion.  They began with these words on their web site:
“Pan Am anticipates continuing to construct track throughout this Fall 2018 and intends to keep working until the weather makes it too difficult this winter.  Work will resume in the Spring, with full Project completion is (sic) anticipated by late Spring 2019. “
Here’s the link:
It turns out that this initial schedule projection has not been met, and when we attended the latest Board Meeting a few weeks ago, it was stated that Pan Am is now projecting a completion date of “Thanksgiving.”

In other words, service expansion to/from Brunswick will have been in operation for at least a year before the siding is completed.

We consider this to be prima facie evidence that suspicions were confirmed and our allegations were proven correct.  Accordingly, we decided it was time to follow up to the Press Herald column of last April with full disclosure of how events had unfolded.
So we submitted the item attached below to the Press Herald for publication.  It was rejected without explanation, so we asked why.  This is the response we got:
“A reader would have to be very well versed in the ins and outs of NNEPRA and the Royal Siding Project to appreciate your submission.”
In other words, readers of the Press Herald are not well enough informed to  understand the column, even though links were provided to every aspect of the case made and the background for it.  It never dawned on the editors that they may have something to do with readers not being well informed.

We decided to submit it to the Times Record/Forecaster, which at this point, are all owned by the same media tycoon, along with nearly every other print media outlet in Maine.
We got no response, so we followed up.  This time we were told:
“I will not be printing this submission as it is a followup to a different newspaper.”
So there you have it; no print outlet in Brunswick, the northern terminus of the Downeaster round trips, or Portland, the southern terminus of the expansion, cares to publicize the facts associated with the “public servants” who manage Downeaster operation.

Which leaves us no option but to publish it here and on The Maine Wire, where no such limitations are in place.  We hope you will read the column below to wrap a bow around the issue.  And that you’ll appreciate our reference to swamps.


Confirmed: NNEPRA's $10 Million Royal Siding Is A Fraud

In April last year, the Press Herald ran my Maine Voices submission; it began with this:
“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.” – Milton Friedman

My thesis was that NNEPRA's proposed Royal Siding Project was declared unnecessary by a career railroad professional with bona fides well beyond anyone in the NNEPRA sphere, and had not been subjected to peer review by qualified experts.

NNEPRA's rationale was that it was necessary to increase Downeaster daily round trips between Portland and Brunswick from three to five. (I learned at the recent NNEPRA Board Meeting that they plan a sixth daily round trip!)

The record now shows that daily round trips were increased to five nearly a year ago, while the siding is still incomplete; game, set, match you might say.

The previous column pointed out that two existing bypass options are close by, and multiple siding options exist near the train layover facility, but they’ve been ignored by the rail authority, while the Maine Department of Transportation and the Legislature’s Transportation Committee apparently couldn't care less.

Hence the project was demonstrably a fraud; a wholly avoidable waste of $10 million in taxpayer money.

A written request was submitted to relevant legislative committees, the Governor’s Office, and MDOT leadership to order a stop on the project, pending a detailed investigation and peer review. It clearly cited the analysis of existing rail system design.

Given the counter-arguments, it was clear there was no credible explanation for the project other than a $10 million quid-pro-quo for Pan Am Railways to secure the additional slots on their tracks required to expand Downeaster trips. Capital improvement dollars and make work activity; what's not to like?

I said so with apprehension, worried it would rain down significant editorial attacks, or worse. Surprisingly, not a single official reply of any sort, let alone a refutation, was forthcoming. Hmmmm, I thought; I wonder why.

No matter; inconvenient realities since that column have made the point undeniably. On the NNEPRA web site you'll find this passage:
“Pan Am anticipates continuing to construct track throughout this Fall 2018 and intends to keep working until the weather makes it too difficult this winter.  Work will resume in the Spring, with full Project completion is (sic) anticipated by late Spring 2019. “
As it turns out, the project is not yet complete, and the latest estimate by Pan Am is that it will be completed “by Thanksgiving.”

On the same web site you'll find these words:
“The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), managing agency of the Amtrak Downeaster passenger rail service, has announced more train service to Freeport and Brunswick beginning Monday, November 12, 2018. Beginning November 12, two (2) additional round trips will serve Freeport and Brunswick on weekdays (5 round trips total), with one additional trip on weekends (4 round-trips total). “
To summarize, the need for the siding has been grossly misrepresented; the $10 million in other people’s money is a waste of funds we don’t have; and those who could have corrected this situation abused the trust the public places in them. Not a soul in the authority chain seems to give a damn about it. And they want us to call them “Public Servants?” 

Swamp denizens would be more accurate. Milton Friedman was on point.

Swamps are “safe spaces” for the political class. Shame is not in the vocabulary; the water is murky and not the least bit transparent; and the critters have no idea what accountability means.

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Is Tech Place at Brunswick Landing on the level?

Side is an old geezer of advancing years at this point.  Now that we think about it, our years have been advancing since the day we were born.  So to be more accurate, we should say instead that we are an old geezer of nealy four score years.  Which sounds scary, if you don’t mind us saying so.

We’re fairly certain that we were genetically pre-disposed to pursue Engineering as the focus of our college education, including post-graduate degrees.  Engineering deals with the realities of the physical world in all its varied expressions.

Most of us who have done so end up instinctively becoming “handy around the house,” which in our case means a bull-headed conviction that we can fix most anything that goes wrong with our house or its contents.  Not to mention our cars and our mowers and anything else we use regularly.

Just ask Mrs. Side, or anyone else married to or closely related to an engineer.
We usually act on that assumption until it becomes clear that we are in over our head.  So along the way, we tend to accumulate quite a collection of hand held tools, and depending on our predelictions, a goodly number of power tools and larger and more complex and expensive powered devices like miter saws, routers, sanders, and various other drills, routers and cutting tools.

                Image result for levels
One of the most basic hand tools, besides hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers is the level.  And related to that is the plumb bob.

A level is that thing shown above, and in it’s most basic form it includes a “bubble” encased in a clear viewing tube.  It is intended to help one make something “level”, which is to say parallel to the distant horizon, or exactly perpendicular to the gravitational force that attracts all things to the center of the earth, including our bodies.  Note that we use levels to tell if something is “horizontal,” which is a variation on the word horizon.

Plumb bobs are related in that they show the direction of the gravitational force, which is exactly 90 degrees from “level.”

Levels are very useful, and indeed necessary, for any number of tasks “around the house.”  They help put a fine touch on getting things aligned accurately.  Those that build houses and larger buildings rely on them for fundamental alignment of all surfaces, walls, and every other element of building construction.

As we advanced in our “seat of the pants” education and grasp of all things physical, one of the lessons we learned is that while the purchased tool called a level is an invaluable aid, nothing beats “the eye” at determining when something is “level.”

This is especially true in situations where you are erecting something in an environment which is decidedly not level, such as a sloping piece of property.

We became extremely aware of this decades ago when we were erecting a gym set for our children in our back yard, which had the typically sloped profile of a housing tract development.
(“If you can’t relate to any of this, just ignore it until we get to the punch line of our essay, when you may suddenly “get it.”)

We thought we had set the gym set up correctly with our level, but when we stepped back to eyeball it, it just didn’t “look right.”  So we adjusted things until it did, and were happy ever after, until the kids outgrew it and we removed it.

The lesson we learned was just how fine a device the eye is for leveling things.  Our mind and our eyes and our body integrate every other input in our field of view into a complete picture and from that, establish what is level for any individual elements.

This is why just about anyone can walk into a room and say that a hanging picture is “crooked,” meaning it needs a slight nudge to become level.  You don’t need a tool to figure this out; your eye and your mind and your body do it for you.  Such is the wonder of gravity, the human body, the human mind, and the human eye.


You should rightly ask at this point why we’ve dragged you (if you are still with us) through this tedious narrative.  The main reason is because we‘re an engineer, and “it’s in our nature.”  The more important reason is shown in the picture just above.

We wanted to give you “the predicate” for our main point here.  “Tech Place” is a major bragging item for the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the State sanctioned entity charged with converting the former Brunswick Naval Air Station into productive civilian use.  It is considered to be an “incubator” for all sorts of emerging and promising technology concepts, and is the recipient of  funding from various sources who dole out taxpayer provided monies in hopes they will eventually provide a return on those “investments.”  Or as we like to call them, speculation.

As a focus for new, emerging high technolgy, we’d like to think the face the place shows to the paying public would be worthy of their support, and an element of pride for the enterprise.

We couldn’t help but notice every time we passed the entrance to the place that something seemed out of whack, to use a precise engineering term.

Our eye told us this was so.  And if you look at the photo above and compare the various horizontal lines with each other, it should be apparent that they are not parallel.  If that doesn’t jump right out at you, don’t worry.  Your talents probably lie in other areas.  Like writing, or painting, or poetry; things we will never be known for.

Such differences aside, we can’t help but wonder who is responsible for the caddy-wampus image the entrance to “Tech Place”  presents, and why anyone in the chain of management for Brunswick Landing facilities didn’t notice the problem when they set the facility up.

Even more, why didn’t they realize the contradiction in terms the image embodies?

The question, we suppose, answers itself.  This is what you get when you have career bureaucrats spending other peoples’ money, with no sense of accountability for the results.  Sometimes the simplest things become emblematic of larger pathologies at play.

You might say we’re being judgmental and that we’re criticizing those who did this work and oversaw it.

You should know this was exactly our intent in drafting this treatise.  Someone somewhere needs to point these things out, don’t they?

Are you kidding me? BHS New Track story……

Before we get to the “heart” of this story, take a look at this passage from a document authored by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

What belongs to you, you tend to take care of;
what belongs to no one or everyone tends to fall into disrepair.

This essentially illuminates the magic of private property. It explains so much about the failure of socialized economies the world over.

Read it over and over.  Recognize that “public schools” are a socialized economic entity.

It’s closely related to this passage from the same document:

Nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own.

Ever wonder about those stories of $600 hammers and $800 toilet seats that the government sometimes buys? You could walk the length and breadth of this land and not find a soul who would say he’d gladly spend his own money that way. And yet this waste often occurs in government and occasionally in other walks of life, too. Why? Because invariably, the spender is spending somebody else’s money.

Economist Milton Friedman elaborated on this some time ago when he pointed out that there are only four ways to spend money. When you spend your own money on yourself, you make occasional mistakes, but they’re few and far between. The connection between the one who is earning the money, the one who is spending it and the one who is reaping the final benefit is pretty strong, direct and immediate.

When you use your money to buy someone else a gift, you have some incentive to get your money’s worth, but you might not end up getting something the intended recipient really needs or values.

When you use somebody else’s money to buy something for yourself, such as lunch on an expense account, you have some incentive to get the right thing but little reason to economize.

Finally, when you spend other people’s money to buy something for someone else, the connection between the earner, the spender and the recipient is the most remote — and the potential for mischief and waste is the greatest. Think about it — somebody spending somebody else’s money on yet somebody else. That’s what government does all the time.

Now, let’s get to “the rest of the story,” which is this recent item in The Ostrich.

Is Side the only one who reads the words of The Ostrich critically?  In the learned sense of that word?  Does its editor actually review article content before going to press?

“Fake news” is a term we hear often in today’s discourse.  We can disagree on the reality of that epithet, but it looks for all the world like the press works overtime to court the image.

Check this passage:

“…..the Brunswick High School Cross Country team hosted a home meet at the high school, starting and ending on the newly finished track, on Sept. 26 — the first home meet the team has hosted in 25 years.”

And then read this one:

“The old track, built in 1994 and resurfaced around 10 years ago, was in dire need of a replacement.”

So in other words, the track recently replaced was built new 25 years ago, and resurfaced 10 years ago, yet it was never used to host a “home meet?”

Now take a look at the photo above, which is presented, obviously to evoke public sympathy for the poor students who were expected to face the reality of such sub-standard school facilities.  Open up the checkbooks!  “I’ll gladly pay higher taxes if it will solve these problems” comes to mind for those who have watched the town play into taxpayer sympathies over the years.

The sad fact is that we HAVE BEEN paying HIGHER TAXES, yet these conditions have been allowed to fester under the watchful eyes of our very well compensated professional staffs.  In this case, obviously, the School Department is responsible.

Who, we might ask, is the individual who allowed this situation to come about?  Who is it that couldn’t tend to weed abatement before it compromised the underlying structure of the track surface?  Who is directly responsible and accountable for the maintenance and condition of this track facility?  Do they and did they have any idea what they were doing, and did they have any qualifications for being given this role?

We could presuppose the answers to these questions, but why bother?

This is the standard school establishment story.  Get the taxpayers to cough up the bucks to build something new.  Then don’t maintain it properly to keep it functional and in good repair, so you can declare it can’t be saved and throw yourself on the mercy of the taxpayers once again to pay for your mistakes and dereliciton of duty by giving you a new whatever.   One thinks of Jordan Acres, once a beloved “neighborhood elementary school.”

That’s the story of most new schools these days, and obviously, the track built for what was once the “New High School.”  How long will it be before the crocodile tears about the crumbling condition of that High School come into the annual budget kabuki theater?

How long will it be before the “New High School,” at least to some of us, becomes the “Old High School,” just like the one at McKeen and Spring became?  How long will it be before the stories about it being less expensive to build a new one instead of repairing the current one come to pass?

                     Image result for the scorpion and the frog

Here’s a prediction: it will happen a lot sooner than anyone might think.  Because just as scorpions have to sting and kill the frog trying to help them cross the river, it’s “in the nature” of the school establishment to let things decay so they can have a new one, rather than take care of the one they’ve already been given.


You see, that’s how you get lovely new things like the track pictured above.  And you don’t even have to take good care of it!  What’s not to like?