Editorial: Keeping promises
The City of Belfast purchased the rail corridor, formerly known as the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Rail, in 2010 for $200,000 with the intention of converting the rail into a recreational trail. However, after a preliminary engineering study was conducted to assess the feasibility and cost of constructing a trail, the city learned it could cost between $1.3 and $5.5 million to build the trail.
The initial sticker shock left the City Council wondering how to move forward with the project. It opted to consider an alternative way to utilizing the rail corridor: rail banking. Rail banking is a term that is used to refer to the process of preserving a once functional rail line that would otherwise be abandoned and converting it into a usable rail trail.
Since the rail corridor is “banked” it can be used in the future as a working railroad without the need for a business or municipality to purchase the land from abutting property owners, who would otherwise be given the rights to the rail corridor that abuts their own property if it were abandoned.
The process of rail banking will take around six months and will cost the city money to go through the application process with the federal government. How much it will cost is not clear. What is clear is that this was not what was originally intended for this project when the land was purchased two years ago.
The city purchased the land with the stated purpose of building a trail. It rushed into the project without knowing the full cost and now is looking for a way out. With rail banking the city can hold the rail corridor in its back pocket until it finds money in the future to build the trail.
While the original purchase price was not exorbitant, in the future the city should determine if it can follow through with its promises before purchasing the land. If it says it wants to put $200,000 toward land for a trail it should have a plan to get that trail built — not in five or 10 years, but now.
Where credit is due
Belfast is in the midst of a series of extensive projects to further improve the attractiveness of the city, which it should be commended for. It recently received a $500,000 Community Develop Block Grant, which will be used to clean up the area around Belfast Commons. The project will add new parking spaces, improving lighting and address some blight issues in the area. City officials are hopeful potential businesses will be attracted to the area as the downtown is rapidly filling up.
It is also preparing to begin construction on the Harbor Walk — a path that runs along the waterfront all the way to the footbridge, in an effort to encourage residents and tourists alike to enjoy the scenic views and the many businesses and restaurants located along the path.
The $1.5 million project is being paid for mainly through a combination of grants and City Council funding.
These are two projects that will improve the look and functionality of Belfast for visitors and residents. The initiatives are a proactive step to making the city more business and tourist friendly and will hopefully accomplish those goals.
While city government isn't perfect it deserves credit for planning good projects and winning grant money to fund them. We look forward to seeing the finished product and hope the town continues to work with an eye to the future, while remaining mindful of its responsibility to live up to its promises.