A portion of the city-owned rail corridor stretching from the Penobscot McCrum property to Oak Hill Road will be preserved through a process called rail-banking after an affirmative vote from Belfast city councilors Tuesday, Feb. 5.

By rail-banking a portion of the corridor, the city can remove the existing rail and use the section for recreational purposes. In addition, the corridor is preserved for future rail use if such an opportunity arises.

In a report to councilors, City Manager Joseph Slocum noted that Belfast can apply for rail-banking using a “class exemption,” because freight traffic hasn’t traveled on the rail for a period of at least two years. By doing so, the city could streamline the process to the extent that the corridor could be banked within five months' time.

The city is still in the process of designing a trail that would go in place of the existing rail, with preliminary options being a stone dust or gravel trail, which could be paid for by salvaging the rail.

Before the trail can be constructed, the city must rail-bank the property, because by law the city is required to keep the corridor open to freight traffic.

The Brooks Preservation Society will be able to operate trains from City Point, and trains can still access Belfast by rail from the county line to City Point.

Prior to voting on whether to pursue rail-banking, a brief public hearing was conducted, at which point councilors listened to a few concerns regarding the liability of private property owners if someone strays from the trail and is injured

Belfast attorney Kristin Collins said because the trail is recreational in nature, the city is protected from any liability. She noted that anybody who leaves the trail would be trespassing on private property and would therefore not have a claim if they suffer an injury.

Christopher Harley-White, in addition to asking about liability issues, questioned whether the need to install fences along some portions of the trail would result in some of his property divided.

Councilor Mike Hurley agreed that the issue of liability and privacy are valid concerns and noted that he would be running into similar issues with people leaving the trail to go out onto a piece of property he owns known as the “beaver tail.”

Hurley noted, however, that he did anticipate access to property being jeopardized because he said fencing would most likely only be installed in areas where there are steep drop offs.

Slocum agreed that the issue of protecting residents' privacy will be a challenge, even if signs are installed to differentiate private from public property.

“The city owns property all over the place and we should be responsible neighbors,” Slocum said.

During a previous public hearing in January, concerns were raised about how the city would address the issue of garbage on the trail. Councilor Eric Sanders said he believed once the trail is built, a group of individuals would form to help keep the trail clean.

Following the public hearing, councilors unanimously voted to approve rail- banking a portion of the corridor.

Other business

Councilors approved the second reading of a proposed contract rezoning agreement between the city and Front Street Shipyard. The contract amendment allows Front Street Shipyard to add a third support to its marine travel-lift pier in order to haul larger boats. The amendment also allows for a larger turning basin off of the end of the pier to accommodate the larger vessels.

A request from Harbormaster Kathy Pickering to renew five charter contracts for 2013 was approved. In addition, councilors approved a request to increase the concessions contract fee to $45 per foot per season and the occasional use contracts to $125 per season. A fee of $10 for being placed on the waiting list for a mooring in the inner harbor and a $10 fee to be on the mooring relocation list were also approved.

City Planner Wayne Marshall updated councilors on the Harbor Walk project. The city received 15 bids, which were all from companies in Maine, Marshall said.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.