JONESBORO, Maine - When John Cox heard about plans to turn 87 miles of inactive rail bed in Washington and Hancock counties into public trails, he hoped someone would start a petition against it.
He just never thought he would have to do it himself.
“I expected somebody to pick it up, but no one did,” said the 75-year-old Maine native, who is limiting his signature gathering efforts to the Jonesboro area where he lives because of a lack of resources.
Still, he has collected more than 300 signatures so far and hopes to send enough to Gov. John Baldacci in the near future to convince him to stop the project.
Cox believes that once the existing rail is gone, so will the chances of rail returning.
“With the increasing prices of gas, there is a definite potential for the rebirth of rail use in America,” said Cox, who has had to collect bottles and cans to help curb the cost of gasoline.
He also is concerned about wetlands along the route.
“I don’ t understand how they will be able to build through it,” said Cox.
His effort is not the first resistance the project has encountered.
Earlier in July, Dale Henderson of Orrington tried to obtain a temporary restraining order that would have halted the $3.9 million project. It was turned down in court.
As proposed, the project involves removing rails and crossties from the rail bed, which has been inactive for decades. The rail bed would be rebuilt to railroad standards where needed to support the public trail for snowmobiles, ATVs, hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers and more.
The state is ready to start work on a section of the rail bed that runs from just east of Ellsworth to near Calais. But the entire project calls for the trail to go roughly from Brewer to Calais.
In defense of the project, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation said the trail work will actually preserve the rail corridor for future use.
Mark Latti said the tracks that are currently on the railroad bed are substandard.
“The tracks would have to be removed anyway,” he said. “The rail just won’ t carry the weight of modern freight trains. When rail is ready to return, we are going to be way ahead of the game.”
Latti added that the railroad bed would be considered an existing structure so the wetlands would not be a problem in attaining permits for constructing new rail in the future.
“It’ s a win-win situation,” said Latti. “We rehabilitate the corridor for future use and in the interim allow recreational use and help the economy.”
Cox remains convinced that the trail project needs to be halted.
“The signatures are something we can show the governor,” he said. “I am going to get as many as I can. If I had the time and money, I could get a lot more. But I am pretty much alone on this.”