February 16, 2017 03:31PM
By Catherine Hewitt
Sun staff writer
MYSTIC — Standing within the pathway of the Federal Railroad Administration’s proposed high speed bypass, more than 200 people gathered Saturday near the red caboose in Olde Mistick Village to speak out against the plan.
The bypass is part of a $130 billion project that is intended to increase capacity, reliability, and speed along the Northeast Corridor. The current Tier I plan for the “Old Saybrook to Kenyon” bypass would go through the Olde Mistick Village shopping center and the Mystic Aquarium, the White Rock aquifer in Westerly, the Frances C. Carter Memorial Preserve and Amos Green Farm in Charlestown, and historic sections of Old Lyme.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., emceed the event. “It’s not about partisan politics, it’s about doing smart and wise planning,” he said. “This rerouting bypass is half-baked, harebrained and it will never happen because the costs are so astronomical — in fact, there’s no reliable estimate.”
He said the design took no account of environmental damage, historic preservation, and local economic impact.
“This is a fun fantasy for the Washington, D.C., bureaucrat planners but it’s a nightmare for all of us who have to live with this proposal,” Blumenthal said. “You need to be heard and we’re going to make that you are heard and that Tier I is history.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, read from a railroad administration document that stated, “the FRA cannot take additional steps toward any changes to the corridor without agreement from the state leadership from the State of Connecticut, without support from the Connecticut delegation and without funding for any of the work.”
He urged the crowd to inundate their government representatives with letters and emails opposing the project.
“We still have a fight with the FRA, we are in the middle of a waiting period before the Record of Decision comes out in March,” he said. “For those of you who have not submitted comments, submit them. We need to overwhelm the people in that office with as much public external pressure as we possibly can.”
Gregory Stroud, executive director of the CT Trust for Historic Preservation’s SECoast organization, said the Record of Decision would be a “blueprint” for every spending and construction project from Boston to Washington through 2040.
“It’s very difficult to change once it’s in the plan so right now we’re 100 percent focused on getting the Record of Decision changed,” he said. “Part of the reason that this plan is in place is they didn’t see the people on the ground — the more we tell our representatives that we care about this right now, the more we’ll get this bad plan out of the Record of Decision.”
State Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said he and his constituents were in favor of high-speed rail but against this particular plan.
“We’re opposing this component of the plan — that’s important because people think we’re against high speed rail but that’s not the case,” he said. “We’re not opposed to improving the Northeast Corridor, we’re opposed to the bypass, which has a significant effect environmentally.”
Julie Carroccia, Charlestown Town Council vice president, said the town wanted to see improvements on the current right of way to avoid the negative impacts of rerouting the tracks. She also said the town would be forced to litigate if the railroad administration doesn’t remove the bypass from Tier I.
Westerly Town Council President Jamie Silvestri, who was joined on the dais by Lisa Konicki, president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, and fellower Councilor Jean Gagnier, said the bypass would irreparably damage White Rock, the town’s sole-source aquifer, which supplies 6.5 million gallons of water a day to Westerly and Stonington.
He said that in 2004, the town did an extensive search to find other sources of water and out of 30 possible places, only one was viable. The next step would be a desalination plant, which would be difficult to implement, he said.
Citing the damage the project would do to the local economy, Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons said Mystic would lose its 2.5 million visitors per year.
“How many are going to come here if this is a construction project for a bypass for Amtrak?” he said. “None are going to come here.”
Other speakers included Connecticut state Sens. Paul Formica and Heather Somers; state Reps. Joe De la Cruz, Chris Conley and Devin Carney; Daniel M. Steward, first selectman of Waterford; Bonnie Reemsnyder, first selectwoman of Old Lyme; Joyce Resnikoff, owner of Olde Mystick Village; Kim Coulter, owner of Stoney Hill Cattle Farm in Charlestown; Chris Regan, who manages the Groton Shopping Plaza; and Frank Grace, owner of Frank’s Gourmet Grille in Mystic.