December 15, 2017

FRA Endorses High Speed Rail Route Through Old Lyme, But With a Tunnel; Courtney, Malloy, Blumenthal, Murphy Express Strong Opposition to Plan

The Federal Rail Authority (FRA) today released the Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (Tier 1 Final EIS) for NEC FUTURE and it is now available for download at www.necfuture.com.

The preferred route includes the controversial Old Saybrook to Kenyon, R.I., by-pass which runs through Old Lyme, and a tunnel in the same area.

Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) released the following statement after the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released their Tier 1 final environmental impact statement for the Northeast Corridors FUTURE plan:

“The FRA’s report released today continues to ignore strong and consistent concerns expressed by the State of Connecticut and local citizens about the eastern shoreline realignment plans. We specifically asked FRA to limit the NEC Future Tier 1 EIS to identify a service and investment strategy to achieve state-of- good repair and maximize the capacity, frequency and speed of existing rail lines.

By continuing to include plans to bypass the current route, the FRA has enflamed impacted communities stretching from Fairfield County to Stonington where the proposed alignment will eviscerate neighborhoods, historic landmarks, and real estate values.

As the FRA itself has confirmed, this new proposed alignment cannot ultimately receive the permits, rights of way and other critical elements without the support and approval of the State of Connecticut.

To this end, we will continue to do all we can to remove this bypass from the final FRA plan in order to provide our communities with the certainty they deserve. Should the FRA continue in its pursuit of its proposed alignment, we will work to ensure that Connecticut exercises every tool at its disposal at the state and federal levels to stop any effort to move forward with this misguided plan.”

A press conference will be held at 2 p.m. this afternoon at which Rep. Joe Courtney, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, and Old Lyme First Seletwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder will discuss the announcement by the FRA.

Greg Stroud, Executive Director of SECoast.org, has released the following statement:

“We have been working full-time on this issue since January, and we have yet to find a single resident, local, state or federal representative, or group, actively supporting the idea of a tunnel under the Connecticut river and Old Lyme.

Why? Even if a tunnel could better preserve the immediate historic downtown of Old Lyme,  it would no doubt be much worse for the environment, and would simply shift the historic and economic impacts onto the communities to the east, whether East Lyme, New London, Mystic, Stonington or Westerly. We find that unacceptable.

A tunnel does nothing to remedy the impacts to the broader region. And as was obvious at the August 31 meeting in Old Lyme, the entire region really is adamantly opposed to the Kenyon to Old Saybrook bypass. Every single town official from Old Saybrook to Westerly, Rhode Island is on record opposing the plan. That doesn’t happen very often.

At some point, you would hope that the federal government would realize this isn’t NIMBY, this is roughly 1/4 of a state, for good reason, refusing to bear the burdens of plan, without the benefits (if there are any to speak of). In the case of Old Lyme, this is a question of survival, and I believe that Mayor Passero in New London, feels almost as strongly.

On an environmental level, a tunnel would very likely require extensive “dewatering” given the routing, the extensive marshes, the lack of bedrock, and a local geology characterized by glacial drift.  In a community of wells, surrounded by marshes, at the mouth of the Connecticut river — one of the only major rivers in the hemisphere lacking an industrialized mouth and port — we believe a tunnel is a nonstarter.

And frankly, given past history, and private discussions with transportation officials, I’d go further and question the seriousness of the offer. When pressed in public and by the press, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has repeatedly refused to rule out a return to a much-less-expensive bridge option through Old Lyme.

If you recall, the FRA was forced to issue three or so clarifications and retractions when questioned by the press on this issue just after the meeting on August 31 —
ctmirror.org/2016/08/31/federal-rail-official-no-elevated-track-in-old-lyme-spokesman-backpedals/

The FRA still hasn’t responded to straightforward Freedom of Information requests filed on April 4, 2016. The FRA claims that these requests are filled on a “first come first served” basis, and refuses to explain the delay. That’s no way to win support in the region for a tunnel, or any other plan.”

Don Stacom of The Hartford Courant published a piece titled, “Railroad Officials Full Speed Ahead on Controversial New Amtrak Northeast Corridor Bypass“a short time ago, in which he states, “Old Lyme is the center of opposition: Critics fear hulking, industrial-looking elevated tracks ruining the New England charm of their village. Museums, schools, environmentalists and historic preservationists all denounced the idea this summer.”

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Comments

  1. At the August meeting in Old Lyme, both Senator Blumenthal and Congressman Courtney pledged to lay on the tracks to halt this proposal’s progress. I think a lot of people who live in the area will join them. This may be metaphor, but there are real world applications that must be lawfully and resolutely undertaken when a government agency tells its citizens, in effect, that they will not only destroy their property and culture, but ignore their will in so doing. Neither bridge nor tunnel can be imposed on Old Lyme, nor will the other communities that would be impacted by the bypass accept this proposal. The FRA doesn’t appear capable of listening, nor of communicating with transparency. My thanks to our representatives and Mr. Stroud for staying on top of this.

  2. Thank you for an excellent initial summary, Lymeline. So much more to come. Kudos to First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder for organizing an all-hands-on-deck press conference in Hartford yesterday.

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