DEP COMMISSIONER Patricia Aho during Wednesday’s hearing in Brunswick.

DEP COMMISSIONER Patricia Aho during Wednesday’s hearing in Brunswick.

BRUNSWICK

One by one they came to the microphone and stated their case before the lawyers, experts and bureaucrats.

On Wednesday night it was the public’s turn to sound off on whether they wanted to see a permit approved that would pave the way for a mammoth passenger train layover facility to be constructed between Stanwood Street and Church Road in Brunswick.

The Brunswick Golf Club was packed as the public crowded in to offer testimony during the second hearing held by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection on a stormwater permit for the proposed train shed.

NNEPRA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Patricia Quinn speaks with reporters on Wednesday.

NNEPRA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Patricia Quinn speaks with reporters on Wednesday.

Many opponents attempted to portray the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the Downeaster Brunswickto Boston passenger line, as an organization that tried to cut corners in its quest to build a maintenance layover facility.

Proponents said the train has been a boon to Brunswick’s economy, and the approval of a stormwater permit is a long time coming.

TIMOTHY HALPIN of Harpswell shows his support for the proposed train layover facility.

TIMOTHY HALPIN of Harpswell shows his support for the proposed train layover facility.

The permit is the last hurdle NNEPRA faces before it can build the facility.

For its part, NNEPRA wants the facility because they said it will lead to expanded service in Brunswick, eliminate idling train engines in Brunswick, and save $450,000 annually by eliminating deadhead runs.

Opponent Sandra Buckles, who lives near the site, said NNEPRA’s stormwater plan lacks “key safety measures” and “attention to detail.”

She and other opponents cited concern for a nearby tributary that leads to the Androscoggin River that would be at risk.

“NNEPRA is irresponsible and uncaring to the members of the public,” said Buckles. “They cut corners, rush through the process, and make changes on the fly. And that is not the kind of neighbor I want.”

Brunswick West member Dan Sullivan said the facility will raise the water table, exacerbating flooding in the area. Diesel pollution from Downeaster trains is already a problem, he said, and the facility would likely make it worse.

Bouchard Drive resident Julie Wise noted that coal ash was present at the site, which she said was known to contain toxins including cadmium, arsenic and mercury.

“I’m very, very concerned about the wisdom of placing this massive facility in this tight, in-town neighborhood,” said Brunswick Town Councilor Jame Millett. “I am not convinced we can be even reasonably be assured there is a zero chance of an environmental impact to our town.”

NNEPRA has hinged expansion of service on the facility, Millett said, which has resulted in a “divisive, polarized atmosphere in town, pitting neighbors against neighbors.”

Counclior John Perrault said NNEPRA was unwilling to work with local neighbors who wanted filters placed on the facility’s exhaust fans to cut polution.

“The answer was, ‘no, it’s going to cost us too much money,’” Perrault said. “It was just flat out no. That tells me just how the project is going to go.”

In an interview, NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn said the filters were considered but ruled out because there would be “no net benefit” for the environment.

All contaminated soil excavated during construction will be capped, said Quinn, eliminating puddles of potentially contaminated water that forms at the site when it rains, and there won’t be any new contamination as a result of the project.

“Those soils exist today and they have for decades,” said Quinn.

During the hearing, Portland City Councilor Ed Suslovic noted that NNEPRA has been “extremely responsive to my concerns” about its Downeaster facility in his district.

“I’m familiar with the challenges they face in trying to maintain these train sets in outdoor conditions,” said Suslovic. “An indoor facility would be a huge step forward. … I know this project can be done, and done well.”

For proponents, the catchphrase was “re-approve,” noting that DEP had granted the permit in 2013, only to have a judge vacate it the following year after ruling that neighbors weren’t properly notified, forcing NNEPRA to reapply.

“It’s the same permit the DEP approved in 2013,” said Emily Boochever, a member of train proponent group All Aboard Brunswick.

Boochever said that DEP approval would “help restore public confidence” in the permit approval process.

Brunswick Town Councilor Kathy Wilson said NNEPRA had already “jumped through all the required hoops and hurdles.”

“I’m dismayed at this otherwise straightforward process that has become a political football,” Wilson said, adding thousands of dollars has been spent by NNEPRA because of a “technical glitch.”

DEP Director of Communications David Madore earlier explained why DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, who didn’t hold a hearing in 2013, decided to hold two on Wednesday.

“What happened after that was, new testimony or new information came in that was in conflict from the first time it (the application) was reviewed,” said Madore, speaking earlier in the day. “Anytime there’s conflicting technical information that comes in, then at that point, the commissioner has the ability to do something like this type of hearing.”

Madore said he was unable to provide an example of the conflicting information.

On Wednesday morning, Timothy Halpin of Harpswell sat in his vehicle outside the hearing with homemade, hand-drawn signs supporting the facility.

The site, he noted, served as a rail yard long before the neighborhood was built there. Although he said it has been largely idle, he questioned why someone would want to build there “if you didn’t want to be around a railroad.”

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