City Council continues to look at rail banking options
Belfast — Discussion about rail banking a portion of the city-owned rail corridor continued at the Tuesday, Aug. 7, Belfast City Council meeting as councilors considered what a potential trail would look like.
The city is considering banking the section of rail that runs from the Penobscot McCrum property to City Point. If the city banks that section, it is effectively abandoning the rail for recreational use for a period of time. The city has the option to reinstate rail use for the section that is banked at any time.
City Manager Joseph Slocum asked councilors for direction about how the consultants — Vanasse Hangen Brustlin — who were hired to assess a trail should spend their time.
“The consultant is looking at options to pursue. We could use that time to determine how a trail would work,” Slocum told councilors.
Councilor Roger Lee noted that the money spent to hire the VHB consultants came from a $47,000 grant to the city. He said he felt it would be irresponsible on the part of the city to pursue a trail next to the rail because of the cost. He also said the money for the trail could be acquired through private fundraising.
Other councilors agreed that the rail and trail option, estimated to cost about $5 million, would be too expensive. Councilor Eric Sanders said he felt the studies conducted so far showed that the trail should be placed where the rail now sits.
“You can’t put a value on something that is built well and done right, and what it would mean to the city,” Sanders said.
Councilor Marina Delune agreed with Lee’s assessment that the money could be raised privately, and also responded to a concern from Belfast resident Rita Horsey, who felt that the city was taking land from residents by eminent domain.
“We are not taking land by eminent domain. The easement remains, it’s just a change in use; a change in use that can be reverted back to the way it was,” Delune said.
When the city purchased the rail corridor in 2010, it offered compensation to abutting landowners — not all owners accepted.
Councilor Mike Hurley said he had a chance to walk on the trail Bucksport built and he was surprised at how much private property the trail crosses. He said the trail was built over a six-to-eight-year period and is now about 1.5 miles long.
“I think a rail trail is terrific,” he said.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.