A city proposal to buy a segment of the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake rail corridor met with little opposition and much support at a public hearing June 21.

The 3.5-mile strip, running roughly from Veterans’ Memorial Bridge to the Belfast/Waldo town line, is currently owned by Unity Property Management and leased by Brooks Preservation Society for rail excursions.

Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum announced June 11 that he had secured an offer to buy the corridor for $200,000, of which half would be shouldered by the local conservancy Coastal Mountains Land Trust.

CMLT hopes to build a pedestrian and biking trail along the corridor, a use that Executive Director Scott Dickerson reiterated Monday could coexist with continued rail service.

The City Council broached the topic June 15, but delayed making a decision in order to allow for public input. On Monday night, residents forecast that a dual-use corridor would draw visitors to Belfast, encourage the health of local residents, and encourage the eventual use of the rail line as an alternative mode of transportation.

Input from the 17 people who spoke at the hearing was almost entirely supportive of the decision to buy the rail corridor.

These included several abutting landowners, each of whom voiced some measure of support for expanding the uses of the rail corridor.

Former Mayor Monroe “Mike” Hall, one of the abutters, said he hoped to see the railway used for transportation again. “When gas gets to be $10 a gallon, it makes sense to ride the train to Boston. And it goes there,” he said, indicating the connection with the Maine Central Railroad at Burnham Junction.

Roger Sprague, also an abutter to the railway, voiced concern about theft and trespassing, as well as the possibility that the trail would be used by motorized vehicles. “I have nothing against the trail, as long as it’s for walking and nothing else,” he said.

Councilor Eric Sanders said he had never envisioned motorized vehicles using the trail, and others seemed to agree.

“If it becomes a populated place rather than a derelict place, the people who are doing graffiti and stealing rowboats would move on down the tracks,” said Liza Wheeler, who lives across the river from the railway. Wheeler called the fear of crime as a result of a trail “unfounded.”

“If it were true, then we wouldn’t build roads anywhere, because it would just mean that people would walk by and do mean things to us,” she said.

The strongest opposition of the hearing came from Fran Reilly, who described the proposed purchase as a “waste of tax money,” particularly during tight economic times. Reilly also voiced concern about liability in the event that someone was injured on what would be a city-owned path.

Slocum, a former liability lawyer, said municipalities benefit from blanket immunity, except in four specific cases relating to buildings on the property, road construction, use of motorized vehicles or a “pollution event.”

“Other than that, municipalities have extreme immunity in the state of Maine,” he said.

Mack Page, who operates the City Point Central Railroad Museum, cautioned against doing away with the railway. In recent months, both Dickerson of CMLT and city officials have been outspoken that the railroad and trail would exist side-by-side.

Page also addressed rail access to downtown Belfast, an issue that has met with some resistance from the Council, particularly Councilor Mike Hurley, who has expressed strong reservations about trains coming south of Pierce Street.

Page said his own long experience with excursion railroads had shown him that tourists wouldn’t walk from the municipal parking lot on Front Street to a boarding area north of Pierce Street.

The railway currently crosses property north of Pierce Street owned by Penobscot McCrum. South of Pierce Street, the corridor is owned by the city. Representatives of Brooks Preservation Society have said they hope to bring the train into downtown Belfast, but to date McCrum and the city have each looked to the other to make the first move.

Dickerson spoke briefly Monday night, reaffirming the conservancy’s willingness to pay up to $100,000 of the purchase price of the corridor.

“The tracks, in any vision we have presently, will remain in place and remain in some level of rail use,” he said.

Dickerson said he also planned to ask his board of directors for approval to contribute to the engineering, permitting and construction costs of the trail.

The construction, he said, would likely be done in phases, with the segment between downtown, “wherever that is,” and the old upper bridge comprising phase one, in part because it appeared to be the easier portion to construct.

Dickerson said he did not know how much it would cost to build the trail. Nor did the city manager, who said there were still too many details that were unknown.

Slocum has previously said that the $200,000 offer would expire July 1. The Council is scheduled to meet June 29 to make a decision.