Round Table Q&A from FRA Presentation of NEC Future plan and Old Saybrook/Kenyon Bypass
First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, Old Lyme
First Selectman Carl Fortuna, Old Saybrook
Selectwoman Holly Cheeseman, East Lyme
First Selectman Daniel Steward, Waterford
Mayor Michael Passero, New London
Mayor Marion Galbraith, Groton City
Sue C. Cullen, Planning Commission, Groton Town
First Selectman Rob Simmons, Stonington
Paul Formica, State Senator, 20th Dist.
Devin Carney, State Representative, 23rd Dist.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal
U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney
Commissioner James Redeker, CT DOT
Executive Director Sam Gold, RiverCOG
Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, US DOT, FRA
Amishi Castelli, US DOT, FRA
Doug Gascon, US DOT, FRA and Marc Willis, US DOT, FRA were in the audience, along with over 500 members of the public.
Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder convened the meeting at 4:30pm with the Pledge of Allegiance. First Selectwoman Reemsnyder acknowledged that the visit from FRA representatives went beyond the normal FRA process and explained that questions submitted by the public in advance of the meeting would be posed to the FRA by members of the roundtable. She introduced roundtable participants and invited Congressman Joe Courtney and Senator Richard Blumenthal to present opening remarks.
Congressman Courtney said the size of the assembled audience spoke eloquently about the community’s concerns about the FRA proposal. The Congressman noted that the host communities represented on the roundtable had worked with Amtrak for decades. “These communities support high speed rail. This is not a gathering of anti-passenger rail people.” He mentioned a recently announced federal loan to Amtrak and a long list of items in the queue that need to be fixed. Congressman Courtney said the FRA proposals range from costs of $68 billion to $100s of billions in a process that seems to exist in an alternative universe because there is no mechanism to fund any of the proposals.
Senator Blumenthal also commented on the size of the audience, stating that the way to win these fights is through citizen involvement and engagement. He acknowledged the need to invest in rail but said the investment needs to be sensitive to fundamental values of life and environmental interests at stake. He called the proposed route that would cut through Old Lyme unfeasible, unworkable, and unnecessary and said there has to be a better way.
Senator Blumenthal characterized roundtables participants as a bi-partisan group working together, and asked that members of the public continue to submit their comments. He pledged to support laws that will block this path [proposed route through Old Lyme].
Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, US DOT, FRA, used a Power Point presentation to explain the FRA process and illustrate the 3 proposed NEC (Northeast Corridor) alternatives.
FRA will recommend an Alternative in Final EIS, anticipated in October 2016. FRA has committed to exclude the possibility of aerial track through Old Lyme in their recommended Alternative. The Final decision will be made December 2016.
Q. (Fortuna) How will these Alternatives impact Old Saybrook? Additional parking was just added to station. Will more investment be made in Old Saybrook to accommodate growth? IF NEC Future is a ‘blueprint’ how will FRA work with CT DOT to implement? Old Saybrook stands with Old Lyme.
Q. (Passero) New London has already experienced population decreases and tax increases as a result of the existing railway and station. Any expansion in New London would be devastating. Does this plan intend to sacrifice individual cities for the larger goals of the NEC Future?
Q. (Gold) Where is FRA in decision process? How will this discussion impact the final decision?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) Tonight’s comments/concerns will be addressed in the final decision. This is a lengthy process. NEC Future is not a blueprint, but rather a guideline. This is a multi-decade plan and will continually factor in local interests and needs. Extensive studies will be conducted and analysis done throughout the process which will affect implementation. FRA’s goal is to balance all concerns in their planning and decision making.
Q. (Cheeseman) Two parts – Philosophical and Practical. After philosophical discussions conclude, what drives the practical decisions?
Q. (Steward) Is going further inland worthy of consideration?
Q. (Simmons) Existing safety concerns should be addressed first. Two existing crossings without loop detectors in Stonington. Has the significant disruption of traffic on I-95 during bypass construction been considered? Concern for commuters and see great need for investment in the repair and maintenance of existing lines.
Q. (Reemsnyder) If there is a tunnel through Old Lyme, it will create a need for specialized, additional training, equipment, recruitment for 1st Responders. Who will bear the cost of this?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) Safety is first priority. Tier 2 will include extensive analysis for how to implement, factoring in fire/safety needs and environmental/historic preservation concerns. Existing corridor is in need of repair, but is at capacity. FRA will not abandon existing lines and acknowledges these lines are used by commuter and freight. Many decisions aren’t a part of NEC Future. FRA will partner along the multi-decade implementation process with local agencies.
Q. (Carney) FRA should have visited SE CT during ‘comment period’. Gov’t works for the people. This bypass should be eliminated from any Alternative. It is half-baked, hair-brained, and expensive. There are better, most cost-effective options.
A. (Reyes-Alicea) The NEC Future is not solely about high speed rail. It is also about repairs and improvements for commuter rail.
Q. (Reemsnyder) If tunnel through Old Lyme is not feasible, will FRA revert to aerial track option?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) FRA has committed to no aerial track in Old Lyme. This commitment will be included in Final EIS. Analysis of tunnel feasibility will be explored. Will keep local communities informed.
Q. (Blumenthal) Advancing technology. What will it look like a decade from now? With limited funds, on time safe performance of existing rail service needs to be priority of budget.
A. (Reyes-Alicea) We agree infrastructure is needed. FRA does not want to abandon existing corridor. They will prioritize moving forward to account for existing repair/maintenance needs.
Q. (Galbraith) What affects New London, equally affects Groton City. Sitting at either side of the mouth of Thames River. Port activity is important to local economy. Concerned with how bypass might interfere with port activity.
Reading from questions compiled from Public
Q. Is FRA willing to cooperate with group of local experts from SE CT to develop alternative to bypass? Is FRA aware of Historical Landmarks in Old Lyme (Flo Gris)?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) FRA appreciates local assistance/expertise. Were generally aware of Flo Gris before, but are far more aware now.
Q. 1M lbs sediment moved down CT River annually. 70% of fresh water enters through CT River Estuary. Has information been gathered on this movement and how this plan could impact fresh water supply?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) Yes. Environmental impacts will be fully considered.
Q. Why were those most directly affected not notified first? Why no hearing held in SE CT?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) FRA wants local decisions made by local partners who will come to FRA with their local needs/concerns as they arise over the course of multi-decade plan. Will require going thru local/environmental agencies throughout.
Q. Are the maps used to develop these Alternatives available? Who can provide us copies?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) We will follow-up on your request for those maps.
Q. How have you complied with section 106 of Historic Preservation Act?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) Have been in contact with local historical preservation offices and will maintain communication with them throughout Tier 2 development.
Q. What will the plan cost? How can such expensive development be considered when so many other needs exist? Roads & bridges need attention first.
Q. How will you get past nine full circles with high speed rail? Tilt technology was previously suggested, but has proven not to be effective. Train sets are too heavy to operate as they should. Why not invest in better technology to improve existing lines?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) Amtrak has been offered RIF loan to invest in new train sets and make improvements. NEC Future plan is structured to be open/flexible to changing/new technologies.
Q. Has the impact to ground water quality been considered/evaluated? Are you aware there are underground rivers in Old Lyme?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) These considerations will be part of Tier 2 development.
Q. (Carney) Who are the Stakeholders you mentioned? Why have regional planning officers been asked for letters of consistency?
A. (Reyes-Alicea) Stakeholders are railways that operate on NE corridor. Advisory commission has been established. NPO is looking at regional context, regional planning efforts.
Amy L. Jensen, 9/1/16
Catherine Frank 9/6/16