Belfast manager halts unauthorized clearing

Posted May 04, 2009, at 8:30 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — A city committee appears to have jumped the gun on its plans to restore a former ski slope off City Point.

City Manager Joseph Slocum said he had told “volunteers” who were working with the Parks and Recreation Commission to clear the old ski slope to halt all activity. He said the logging and clearing of the site were unauthorized, as was the use of city equipment.

“The city has not decided to turn that property back into a ski slope,” Slocum said Monday. “We haven’t budgeted for any work there; we haven’t even had a public hearing.”

Slocum said the City Council had given its initial approval to an ordinance amendment that added the former ski area to its list of parks and recreation areas, but had gone no further.

He said a memo attached to the ordinance change request indicated there would be minimal supervision of volunteers marking trails and clearing slopes this year. The memo also indicated a long-term plan of building a shelter and ski-tow equipment within five years.

Slocum said that while he “clearly upset” some members of the parks commission by shutting down their activities, he said their request was to change the language of the ordinance, not for project approval.

“I frankly understood that this was something in the planning stages of the commission,” Slocum told the council in this week’s manager’s report. “I did not realize that they were prepared to proceed.”

The ski area last was used in the 1960s and the trails had filled in with vegetation over time. Until a few years ago, the public works department used the site as a stump dump. It is now part of the Passagassawakeag River Greenway and has a series of hiking trails through it that are managed by Coastal Mountains Land Trust.

Slocum said parks commission member Robert Gordon approached him this winter about restoring the slope. Gordon lives across City Point Road from the area and had complained about “free-range” snowboarders parking in his driveway to use the slope.

Slocum said that while it would be “nice” for the community to have a local ski slope, the proposal needed to be studied properly before moving forward. He said that while he and Gordon had discussions about it, “I had no idea he was going to go right out and start working on it.”

Gordon not only began clearing and logging the property, he apparently gave away some of the harvested trees. Slocum noted that only the council has the authority to accept or give away city property.

Slocum said any project would need to be approved by a vote of the council before it could be implemented. In addition, he said, the council would be wise to have a detailed plan and cost projections before taking any action. He also recommended that any activity at the site must be supervised for liability reasons.

“If we are going to have volunteers do logging on city property, one of the most dangerous activities on Earth, we should have a staff member directly supervise the activity, verifying the credentials of the volunteers to use such equipment and their ability to work with one another so that no one gets killed,” Slocum said in the report. “A member of the commission operating a piece of city equipment on-site is insufficient to keep eyes open with suitable communication support in place so that everyone is kept safe.”

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