Freeport, Brunswick fight against any federal cuts to Downeaster expansion

Posted Dec. 28, 2011, at 3:18 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2012, at 2:07 p.m.

FREEPORT, Maine — Freeport officials and Brunswick’s downtown association recently reiterated their support for the Downeaster’s expansion to the Mid-coast region.

Last week, the Freeport Town Council approved a resolution to be sent to Maine’s congressional delegation stating opposition to any federal funding cuts to Amtrak or the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program.

Wayne Davis, chairman of TrainRiders/Northeast, said at the council’s Dec. 20 meeting that the statement will be submitted alongside letters from Boston, Portland and other communities along the Downeaster’s route to make the case to national representatives for continued rail funding.

Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, said she thinks it is important to keep reminding Maine’s representatives that the region supports passenger rail, but she is not concerned about convincing the delegation to support Amtrak funding.

“They are already on board,” Fuentes said. “They got the money promised [to the Downeaster] to begin with, but it is helpful when we provide tools to the different members of our delegation so they can show some of the other elected officials in Washington that there is strong grassroots support.”

Ultimately, Fuentes said she thinks Amtrak funding will be preserved.

“I think everyone is concerned just because — everyone’s concerned about everything related to funding in Washington,” Fuentes said. “It seems as though things have reached a new level of not getting along.”

In late November, Stephanie Slocum, president of the Brunswick Downtown Association (BDA), sent a letter of support for the Downeaster expansion to Martin Eisenstein, chairman of the board for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

In the letter, Slocum wrote that the BDA “wants to strongly re-emphasize its support from the Amtrak Downeaster extension to Brunswick next year.”

Slocum wrote that the BDA recorded “a surge in downtown business sales” after the arrival of the Maine Eastern Railroad trains and that the BDA is “also optimistic of a boost to our local and regional economies with the arrival of the Downeaster.”

To that end, Slocum wrote that the BDA “would like to see as many round trips to and from Brunswick as possible.”

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, told The Times Record in November that in order to have more than two round trips a day, a train maintenance facility in Brunswick — at a site south of outer Pleasant Street, between Stanwood Street and Church Road — will be necessary.

In her letter, Slocum states that she believes the impact of the facility on the neighborhoods it abuts can be mitigated.

“We acknowledge that there is anxiety about the facility in the selected neighborhood,” Slocum wrote. “ We believe potential adverse impacts can and will be mitigated.”

After the Dec. 2 meeting of an advisory group for the facility, neighbors organized as the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition said they remain concerned about the measurements being used to determine the level of noise generated by idling trains at night.

Anna Nelson, a spokeswoman for that neighborhood group, said after the Dec. 2 meeting that the group planned to have an independent contractor — Charles Wallace — review the data from NNEPRA before the next meeting.

Brunswick Town Council chairwoman Joanne King said after that meeting that adequate mitigation of noise from the facility is within reach.

“We’re going to do all that we can to protect these neighborhoods,” King said after the Dec. 2 meeting.

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