A DOWNEASTER PASSENGER TRAIN is shown shortly after arriving at Brunswick’s station in this 2014 file photo. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection will hold a hearing Wednesday that could pave the way for a new, massive passenger train shed to be built in the west Brunswick area.

A DOWNEASTER PASSENGER TRAIN is shown shortly after arriving at Brunswick’s station in this 2014 file photo. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection will hold a hearing Wednesday that could pave the way for a new, massive passenger train shed to be built in the west Brunswick area.

BRUNSWICK

A years-long struggle over whether to build a 60,000-square-foot indoor passenger train layover facility may come to a head Wednesday, when the Maine Department of Environmental Protection holds back-toback hearings over a stormwater permit.

Starting at 9 a.m. at the Brunswick Golf Club at 165 River Road, the DEP will receive testimony from the applicant and those who have signed on as intervernors. At 6 p.m., DEP will receive testimony from the general public.

All testimony is given under oath and is subject to cross-examination.

At stake is a $12 million train shed that can house three train sets used for Downeaster service in a single-story building about 655 feet long, 70 feet wide and 37 feet high. The facility will save $450,000 annually by eliminating deadhead runs, according to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority which oversees the Brunswick Boston service.

The facility would be located between Stanwood Street and Church Road at the site of a former freight yard, and has been met with stiff resistance by neighbors worried about decreased property values, vibration, noise and pollution.

Chief among them is Robert Morrison of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, whose members will likely be testifying against the facility on Wednesday.

“We feel confident, going in, that by presenting the hard facts about the storm water permit application … that we will get a positive verdict for the neighborhood,” said Morrison. “It’s a technical thing, not an emotional thing that some people have tried to portray.”

The technical thing in question is the DEP’s storm water permit. An existing permit was vacated by a Maine Superior Court judge in July 2014 because abutters to the site weren’t properly notified.

NNEPRA reapplied but was told by DEP that their new application lacked sufficient information. DEP approved another application for processing in October

2014.

However, the issue remained controversial enough for DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho to schedule a hearing.

During that hearing, Morrison said Brunswick West will have experts testify that NNEPRA’s application is incomplete and deficient, but declined to name specifics as to how the application comes up short.

“We feel that we’ve done our homework and will present materials pertinent to the permit,” Morrison said. “I think we feel they have not lived up to the requirements and rules of the storm water permit application, pure and simple, that’s why we’ve got the experts in the morning, and why we will be speaking to the permit in the afternoon. It’s incomplete, and we will point out where it is incomplete and deficient.”

Claudia Knox of the Downeaster proponent group All Aboard Brunswick said DEP will likely issue the permit.

“All Aboard Brunswick believes that since the storm water permit was previously approved, and the fundamentals have not changed since that approval, that we very much hope the permit will once again be granted,” said Knox.

Knox said she believed DEP was acting in a very formal, legal process to provide transparency to the issue, so that their decision “can’t be called into question.”

The facility is one of several controversial issues facing NNEPRA.

Earlier this month, Brunswick state Sen. Stan Gerzosky successfully petitioned the Legislature’s government oversight committee to direct the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to perform an audit of NNEPRA.

In his request, Gerzofsky stated, in part, that “many concerns have been raised over the past few years about the operations and management of NNEPRA. There appears to be a real lack of trust and transparency.”

The train shed is “not part of my request, but you don’t know where the investigation is going to go,” said Gerzofsky in an interview on Monday.

Gerzofsky said the the audit request came because he couldn’t get a “working dialogue” with NNEPRA.

“We can work a lot of problems out, if we had a willing partner,” Gerzofsky said. “I don’t think NNEPRA’s been a willing partner in anything. They have their way, and it’s the only way.”

“There’s been no requests from Sen. Gerzofsky that hasn’t been fulfilled,” said NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn. “We comply with Freedom of Access Acts requests. We answer questions asked of us. We respond to all requests for information.”

Quinn added that NNEPRA is regularly audited by the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Information as a matter of course.

Gerzofsky is also taking on NNEPRA on another front. He has submitted a bill that would ban passenger trains from idling in the state of Maine for more than 30 minutes.

“I got a passenger train idling in my town seven days a week,” said Gerzofsky, referencing Downeaster trains idling along Cedar Street, an issue that has prompted complaints from constituents.

The Legislature’s transportation committee will take up Gerzofsky’s bill on Thursday.

Trains idle to provide power to certain systems, and Gerzofsky has suggested that using a portable power supply would be a much cheaper alternative than building the layover facility.

The layover facility, in which a train could plug in and power down, would solve the idling problem in Brunswick. However, trains would still be required to idle in cold weather in Portland, said Quinn.

Gerzofsky’s bill, Quinn said, is something NNEPRA won’t be able to support.

“If trains aren’t allowed to idle, they won’t be able to work reliably,” Quinn said.

The layover facility would do more than provide electrical power to trains. It would also allow the trains to be sheltered from winter weather and cold that has created a lot of mechanical problems.

“Right now, the storm water permit is the only permit required,” said Quinn, before construction of the facility can start.

She said she understood why the DEP is looking at the permit so thoroughly, adding, “There’s no questions this is controversial.”

“If there’s no environmental impact on that location, we should all be standing there with a welcome sign,” said Gerzofsky. “If there is an environmental impact, then I don’t want to bring a problem with the town.”

Concerns

THE FACILITY would be located between Stanwood Street and Church Road at the site of a former freight yard, and has been met with resistance by neighbors worried about decreased property values, vibration, noise and pollution.


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: