Gov. Paul LePage has nominated a neighborhood opponent of a proposed train facility in Brunswick to serve on the board of the quasi-state agency that wants to build it. The largest rail advocacy group in Maine, though, plans to fight the nomination on Thursday when the Legislature’s Transportation Committee holds a confirmation hearing.

The conflict is over LePage’s decision to pick Robert McEvoy, who was an early opponent of the proposal to build the $12 million, 55,000-sqaure-foot maintenance and layover facility. The rear of McEvoy’s property line at his home on 40 Bouchard Drive would be about 240 feet away from a building that would hold three trains.

LePage has nominated the former highway engineer to serve on the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s seven-member board of directors. The rail authority operates Amtrak’s Downeaster train service. LePage last week sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration voicing his opposition to the Brunswick facility. A decision is expected soon.

McEvoy, who in past news stories has been identified as a member of an opposition group, the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, has said he is concerned about noise, diesel emissions and disruptive vibrations from the layover facility.

The group’s spokesman, Dennis Bailey, said McEvoy has not been a member of the group but serves as an adviser. Bailey said it would be healthy for the rail authority to have a board member who does not represent a “special interest,” referring to Trainriders/Northeast, the citizens group that has been advocating for rail service in Maine for 25 years.

“To be honest, a lot of the decisions regarding passenger rail (have) been based on emotion and passion and (are) the result of special interest groups that have been pushing it,” Bailey said. “Bob is a reasonable guy and will base his decisions on facts and evidence.”

Wayne Davis, chairman of Trainriders/Northeast, said LePage’s nomination of McEvoy is rooted in political meddling rather than an interest in seeing the rail authority succeed at its mission to bring passenger rail service to the state and operate it successfully.

“Now for the first time, we have someone who is appointed to the board who is openly hostile to existing authority policy, and we think that is a mistake,” Davis said.

McEvoy could not be reached for comment. LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said McEvoy was chosen based on merit. “This is not political,” Bennett said. “No matter the board of the commission, the governor takes all candidates into consideration based on their qualifications.”

She noted that McEvoy was nominated by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, a Democrat whose district includes Brunswick. Gerzofsky has been an opponent of the rail authority’s proposal to locate the facility near a residential area in Brunswick. Gerzofsky could not be reached for comment.

According to the resume McEvoy submitted to the governor’s office, McEvoy in 1959 received a graduate degree in traffic engineering from Yale University and worked for years designing highways and roads for cities in Massachusetts and Maine and for the state of Rhode Island. From 1988 to 2000, he worked in Augusta as the state director for the Federal Motor Carrier Administration under the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The rail authority, which has a contract from Amtrak to operate the Downeaster service in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, oversees an annual operating budget of $17 million, half of which is funded by fares and half by a mixture of federal and state funds. The authority was created by the Legislature in 1995 and has six full-time employees and one half-time employee.

Its board members are appointed by the governor to serve five-year terms. The current members are: Lewiston attorney Martin Eisenstein, Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors, former president of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad Matt Jacobson, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation David Bernhardt, Biddeford City Manager John Bubier, and Director of the Maine Office of Tourism Carolann Ouellette.

 

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-64369 or at:

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