In a bid to finalize a lease for ongoing public use of the rail trail, city officials on Aug. 7 agreed to reimburse Penobscot McCrum for more than $45,000 in past expenses, including some incurred by the potato company while it was contesting the public crossing.

The 750-foot stretch at the southern end of the rail trail has been open to the public on handshake terms since August 2016.

Under the terms of the proposed lease, the city would pay $5,000 per year for public access, retroactive to 2016, and reimburse Penobscot McCrum for paving and other expenses related to maintaining its portion of the trail.

City Manager Joe Slocum presented the City Council with $25,000 in paving bills, along with several other bills he said he hadn't expected to receive. These included $5,000 for a survey of the property, $5,231 in legal fees and $10,400 for staff time and outside consultants.

The paving expenses to be reimbursed include roughly $12,000 that Penobscot McCrum paid the city in 2016 for ground work done on the property by Belfast Public Works Department.

"He feels if we pay it back to him, he's paid for it," Slocum said.

Penobscot McCrum President Jay McCrum on Aug. 14 said he submitted the bills in response to a request from the city manager for his expenses related to the rail trail.

"We never discussed a time or anything," he said. "It was all part of putting the trail together."

Several city councilors on Aug. 7 expressed concern that the bills arrived without receipts or other supporting documentation. They asked that future expenses be agreed upon in advance, and that any request for reimbursement come with receipts. Additionally, they asked for a copy of the survey done by Penobscot McCrum.

The council approved taking $55,631 from the Downtown Tax Increment Financing account to cover the submitted bills along with retroactive lease payments for two years, bringing the city current through the end of August.

A signed lease would put a cap on more than seven years of work toward the completed rail trail. The city bought 2 ¼ miles of rail corridor from Unity Foundation in 2010, and after sparring with abutting property owners who opposed the trail and Brooks Preservation Society, whose members wanted to revive excursion rail service out of Belfast, the city removed the rails in 2014.

Coastal Mountains Land Trust raised $400,000 to build the trail over the next two years while city officials negotiated with Penobscot McCrum over the crucial segment needed to connect the trail to downtown. After reaching an impasse, the city threatened to take the strip by eminent domain but ultimately reached a deal for the public crossing.

Councilors, speaking after the meeting, expressed frustration about the unexpected bills from Penobscot McCrum, but none wanted to risk the future of the trail.

"In an absolute perfect world, if we thought that there was any chance we were going to get a more detailed invoice, we would have held out," Councilor Mary Mortier said. "It was important to us to get that section paved and have the lease signed."

Councilor Mike Hurley likewise said the most important thing now is to secure future access to the rail trail. He went on to describe the combination of the rail trail, footbridge and harbor walk as the "civic accomplishment of a century."

"Yes there were people who stood in the way," he said, "but to have completed it is an accomplishment beyond measure."

On Aug. 14, Slocum said he had not yet met with representatives of Penobscot McCrum to finalize the lease. McCrum said he plans to ask for changes to some details and wording in the agreement but said these would not substantially change the terms.