Supporters of Amtrak’s plan to build a $12.7 million layover facility in Brunswick have enlisted a drone to counter neighbors’ opposition to the project, but residents who live nearby say the aerial video footage shot from the drone is misleading.
A rail advocacy group, TrainRiders/Northeast, is distributing the aerial video on its website and social media. It shows the proposed site of the facility and its proximity to nearby homes.
It may be the first time a drone has been used to make a point in a land-use dispute in Maine, said Bill Lord, who volunteered to pilot the drone and is a former executive at ABC news and a former journalism professor at Boston University.
“It’s an example of how a drone video can help folks understand the lay of the land,” said Lord, who manages the TrainRiders’ website.
The video, just over three minutes long, is narrated by Jeff Reynolds, a Brunswick resident who supports the building the facility.
It begins with Reynolds speaking into a GoPro camera while standing at the site of the proposed building. The next footage is from the air, taken by the same camera, which has been attached to a Phantom 2 quadcopter, a drone helicopter.
The drone flies as high as 200 feet above the railroad tracks and then turns south to show the neighborhood that has been fighting the project. No houses can be seen because the area is covered with a “thick band of trees,” Reynolds says in his commentary.
The rail advocacy group’s chairman, Wayne Davis, says the video helped him visualize where Amtrak wants to build the 655-foot-long facility, which would accommodate three diesel locomotive-powered passenger trains used for Amtrak’s Downeaster service.
The complaints from the adjacent neighborhood suggest the facility would be built next door to the houses, Davis said.
“But from the air, you see the area is heavily forested,” he said.
Amtrak’s critics, however, say the drone footage is misleading because its flight path and camera angles make it make it difficult to see the homes situated beneath the canopy of trees.
“It’s like looking at Google Maps. You get a pretty distorted view of things,” said Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, which has opposed the project.
The proposed site is a former railroad yard located between Pleasant Street and Bouchard Drive. The yard was built by predecessors of the Maine Central Railroad in the 1850s, and once had enough side tracks to hold 95 freight cars. Most of the tracks and the remaining railroad buildings were removed during the 1980s. A residential subdivision was built adjacent to the yard in the 1970s and 1980s.
Today, the state-owned property serves as a corridor for Amtrak and Pan Am Railways freight trains, and also as an interchange for Pan Am Railways and the Maine Eastern Railroad. The proposed facility would be built on land the rail authority purchased on the north side of the tracks
The proposed facility would provide overnight storage and maintenance of passenger trains, including refueling, lubing and oiling, filling sand boxes, brake shoe replacement, cleaning, sewage dumping, de-icing and restocking. The nearest home to the facility would be about 160 feet from the railroad tracks and about 240 feet from the proposed layover facility, according to the rail authority.
The proposal has received a high level of scrutiny from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The agency earlier this month accepted a revised application for storm-water management, after rejecting the original in August because information was missing.
Bob Morrison, Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition chairman, said some of Reynolds’ statements in the video have upset residents, such as his claim that he’s a neighborhood resident when he actually lives four streets away on Redwood Lane. Also, Morrison said, the trees between the homes and the train tracks are nearly all deciduous, so there won’t be any buffer at all when there are no leaves. In the video, Reynolds says the trees are mostly pines that offer a year-round buffer.
And although the aerial view shows a canopy of trees, homeowners will still be able see the facility and hear the diesel engines and clanking of equipment.
Reynolds said in an interview that the aerial video is fascinating because it offers a variety of perspectives.
“It gave an actual bird’s view, and the value there was that you could answer your own questions,” he said. “What does it look like from that direction? And this direction? What does it look like a little higher up?”
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages the Downeaster service, has won federal approval to build the facility. Before it can begin, however, it needs the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to approve the revised storm-water management plan.
The DEP will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 13 at Brunswick High School to gather public input on the proposal. The agency is required to make a decision by Dec. 17.