The Belfast City Council may be eyeing a portion of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake rail corridor for purchase, but why and whether it will happen remain unknown.

VillageSoup learned of the city’s interest in the rail corridor April 20, when a closed-door executive session with the stated purpose of discussing a real estate matter became heated, leading to shouted accusations among the councilors. The raised voices, which became easily audible from the hallway, spoke of the rail corridor, Coastal Mountains Land Trust and Unity Property Management, the owner of the property, as well as a dollar figure in the $300,000s.

The executive session was the fourth consecutive closed-door session devoted to discussions of a real estate matter since Feb. 2, when the Council bought a piece of land adjoining Belfast Common. The Council held a fifth executive session April 27 during a special meeting at which the executive session was the sole agenda item.

Executive sessions are intended to be confidential and several councilors contacted by VillageSoup declined to comment on the April 20 debate.

Asked if Unity Property Mangement had been in conversation with the city about a sale of the property, Larry Sterrs, CEO of Unity Foundation, UPM’s parent company, laughed.

“We’ve been in conversation with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Conservation, Land for Maine’s Future, Brooks Preservation Society, the city of Belfast, with all these folks, for three or four years about buying the property,” he said. “It’s been in discussion for a long time, but those discussions have never culminated in anything.”

Sterrs said discussions about selling the property, which he said is listed at roughly $700,000, are no further along than they were five years ago.

The 3.5-mile stretch of the former Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad corridor owned by Unity Property Management stretches from Veterans’ Memorial Bridge to the Waldo town line. The corridor was recently leased to the Brooks Preservation Society, a group that had previously run rail excursions from the Belfast/Waldo line to the end of the B&ML line at Burnham Junction. With the lease of the railway inside Belfast, the group hoped to bring excursion rail service back into downtown Belfast.

But the last 1,500 feet of the railroad between the bridge and the former Front Street terminus crosses property owned by Penobscot McCrum and the city of Belfast. In the city-owned portion, much of the rail has been removed and the old terminal buildings either demolished or put to other uses.

The recent efforts of BPS to return rail service to Belfast have been apparently at odds with the city’s planned coastal walkway — a pedestrian and bicycle promenade that, as proposed, would cover a portion of the railway south of Pierce Street.

Joe Feero, executive director of BPS, said the lease agreement with Unity Property Management would cease to be valid if the property were sold. But it also gives his organization the right of first refusal on any sale of the property. To date, he said he was unaware of any sale negotiations.

“If somebody purchased it, we would work with that person as need be,” he said.

On the continuing efforts of BPS, Feero said the organization has been in conversations with Penobscot McCrum owner Jay McCrum about loading and unloading passengers on the property of the potato-processing company. The excursion season, which Feero said will maintain the same schedule as last year, with regular runs on Saturdays and occasional special excursions on other days, begins May 29.

The rail route also figures in Coastal Mountains Land Trust’s planned Passagassawakeag Greenway, which would use the rail corridor as the route for a hiking path. Unlike most rails-to-trails conversions, CMLT has publicly embraced the idea of a dual-use corridor, with a hiking trail running parallel to the train tracks.

“We continue to work with any interested parties — which includes Brooks Preservation Society — who would be interested in sharing the rail with a public pathway,” said CMLT Executive Director Scott Dickerson, “and the city is potentially a player in that.”