April 26, 2018
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Trail raises concerns in Ellsworth

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

ELLSWORTH, Maine — About a half dozen residents who spoke Tuesday with city and state officials said they do not object to the idea of a walking trail in their neighborhood.

What they are concerned about, they said, is precisely where the trail will run and what it will look like.

City Manager Michelle Beal, state Sen. Dennis Damon and state Rep. Brian Langley met with the group Tuesday night at City Hall to talk about the proposed trail project, which would result in a walking trail being built next year along part of existing train tracks that run through the city.

The local trail as proposed would be paved and would have one end at Birch Avenue and the other at Route 179. In between, the 1.3-mile trail would run parallel to the rail line directly in front of Ellsworth High School.

East of Ellsworth, between Washington Junction and Ayers Junction in Pembroke, the old rail corridor is being converted from use as a rail line into a trail that can be used by hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicles. West of Washington Junction, the rail line is being leased and rehabilitated by Downeast Scenic Railroad, which hopes to offer seasonal excursion rail service between Washington Junction and Ellsworth Falls next year. Eventually, the rail service would extend all the way to Green Lake in Dedham.

Of the handful of residents at the meeting, some said they were concerned about how close the trail would be to the rail line where it passes their properties and how it would look.

Birch Avenue residents Marc and Diane Blanchette said they are concerned about losing 16 pine trees that are planted in a row next to the rail line where it passes their home. They said the Maine Department of Transportation has told them that the trees need to be removed — not to make way for the trail but for a 10-foot-wide buffer zone that would be between the rail line and the trail.

Marc Blanchette said he would like to work with DOT to find a way to save the trees but the state agency seems to have made up its mind without consulting abutting landowners.

“DOT is taking a cookie-cutter approach to this,” he said. “I’m going to have to move my trees for 10 feet of grass.”

Blanchette said he has an appointment to meet with DOT officials next week to discuss his concerns further.

Mike Barry, whose business and home are located on Lakes Lane just east of the rail line, said he’s concerned about how the trail project might affect a retaining wall on his property next to the rail corridor. If the local rail line itself were converted for use as a trail as it is east of Washington Junction, he suggested, the trail project likely would cost less than its approximate $1 million estimate, he added.

In some areas a chain-link fence will divide the trail from the rail line where there is not enough room for a 10-foot buffer zone. Some residents at the meeting said they were concerned a chain-link fence would look bad.

City officials said they have been working with DOT and others to determine how the trail project and rail service would affect residents, including what kind of safety precautions will be taken at railroad crossings. The city supports the trail concept, they said, because it hopes to improve pedestrian access between downtown and the city’s schools and because the trail’s northern end at Route 179 would be near the northern end of Shore Road, which is a popular walking spot.

City officials said that some elements of an improved pedestrian system through the city might have to be put in place before it is known where or how all the pieces of that system will fit together.

“It’s not easy, and it’s not always obvious where it’s all going,” City Planner Michele Gagnon said.

Gary Briggs, vice president of Downeast Scenic Railroad, declined Wednesday to comment about the meeting but said the railroad supports the construction of the trail along the rail line through central Ellsworth. He said his organization has held several public meetings in Ellsworth in the past year to discuss its plans and is willing to talk to residents about its service.

“We definitely are available to answer any concerns,” Briggs said.

Mark Latti, spokesman for DOT, said Wednesday he was not familiar with the trail project and could not reach other DOT officials who were. But he said the agency is willing to hear people out.

“We’ll continue to communicate with property owners about their concerns with this project,” Latti said.

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