Opponents of Downeaster service expansion depot in Brunswick vow to ‘refute everything’ at federal hearing on project
BRUNSWICK, Maine — Opponents are optimistic they will prevail when the Federal Railroad Authority hears public response to plans for a proposed train layover facility near Bouchard Drive in Brunswick.
The proposed facility’s impact on the neighborhood will be discussed at a public hearing 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26, in Room 217 of Brunswick Station.
The leader of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, the neighborhood group that has spearheaded the opposition, said the coalition plans to reveal documents that will challenge an environmental assessment submitted by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
“We will refute everything,” Dan Sullivan said. “We have been preparing years for this moment.”
NNEPRA is required to receive FRA approval of the project under the National Environmental Policy Act because the agency will be using federal funds.
The environmental assessment is available on NNEPRA’s website at nnepra.com/projects/brunswick-layover-facility.
The comprehensive document includes NNEPRA’s plans for the $12 million project proposed for construction in a rail yard between Church Road and Stanwood Street, parallel to the neighborhood where residents are in opposition.
The public comment process ends Oct. 13.
Besides attending next week’s public hearing, comments can be sent to NNEPRA’s offices by email to Marina@nnepra.com or by postal mail to Marina Douglass, NNEPRA, 75 West Commercial St., Suite 104, Portland, ME 04101.
If FRA approves the project, the facility will allow NNEPRA to expand Amtrak Downeaster service between Portland and Brunswick.
But FRA’s review of the project can also lead to additional environmental analysis, “which can ultimately lead to revisions, if new [or] unaddressed issues are identified during the comment period,” an FRA spokesman said in July.
“The [environmental assessment] is designed to assure that the agency and the public have the opportunity to take a hard look at the project, so that the decisions made are based on all available information,” FRA spokesman Warren Flateau said.
Foes of the proposal are not convinced by reports conducted by NNEPRA that show the facility will have little impact on air quality or noise in the area, and they hope the FRA’s review will affirm that and force NNEPRA to choose another location.
Sullivan said he and others believe NNEPRA chose the Stanwood-Church site over alternative locations that weren’t near neighborhoods because it was convenient and would save the agency money.
“That doesn’t sit well with me,” he said.
Patricia Quinn, executive director of NNEPRA, has said the facility would be stopped in its tracks if the agency can’t get the Stanwood-Church site.
“We have continued to review and talk about and evaluate and making sure the assumptions we have made are accurate,” Quinn said in July. “It’s just that the other sites have a lot of challenges to the operation or causes other environmental impacts, so this was the site as being identified as preferred.”
According to a 2011 consultant’s report completed after NNEPRA held a series of public hearings on the proposed facility, Church-Stanwood was recommended because of “its historical use as a railroad property, proximity to the station, availability and relative cost effectiveness.”
The report is included in NNEPRA’s Environmental Assessment.
“Although the other sites could ultimately be developed given sufficient additional financial resources, time, and changes in off-site and railroad operation,” the report said, “these issues do not appear to be resolvable in the near future.”
NNEPRA and representatives from other transportation agencies and the construction group chosen for the facility have been holding a series of advisory meetings with the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition over the summer.
Quinn said in the most recent meeting last week, NNEPRA officials and others told the neighborhood group that they will consider a request to install exhaust fans in the facility if the FRA determines that is necessary.
Quinn said the advisory group will not determine whether to hold another meeting until after the FRA’s review of the facility is complete.
“We said all along it’s our intention to continue to meet with the group if the (environmental assessment) process allows for the facility to continue,” she said.