Contractor bankruptcy won’t stop rail trail

Posted June 28, 2010, at 10:08 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Despite the financial problems of the main contractor doing the work, rehabilitation of the western end of the Down East Sunrise Trail is continuing and still is expected to be completed on schedule this fall, according to a state official.

Bangor-based Vaughn Thibodeau & Sons recently defaulted on several loans issued by Machias Savings Bank, which resulted in the bank foreclosing on the contracting business. Earlier this month, the bank took possession of several Thibodeau properties in Hancock, Penobscot and Waldo counties.

Norman Baker, project manager for Maine Department of Transportation’s multimodal program, said Monday the department took out a bond on the rail corridor conversion project when it hired Thibodeau, essentially insuring the project. He said the bonding company has agreed to find another contractor to finish converting the western end of the former rail line into a multiuse trail.

“The bonding company has stepped up,” Baker said. “They will decide who’s going to do the construction.”

Baker said Thibodeau has been working on the project this spring, removing old rail and cross ties and rebuilding the old rail bed. The section of trail between Cherryfield and Whitneyville is almost complete, he said.

“The bridges still need work,” Baker said of the trail in western Washington County.

The entire 87-mile trail, which stretches from Washington Junction in Hancock to Ayers Junction in Pembroke, is scheduled to be completed and opened to the public this November, according to Baker.

The eastern end of the trail, from Whitneyville to Ayers Junction, was completed and opened last October. The trail is open to the public for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and all-terrain vehicle use.

However, when parts of the trail that run through portions of Hancock and Steuben might be opened to the public is unclear. Dale Henderson, who owns parcels of land in each town, has blocked access to the former rail line where it crosses his properties.

Henderson is contesting the state’s ownership claim to the old rail bed, and earlier this month won a round in his legal battle with Maine Department of Transportation when a judge ruled in Washington County Superior Court that Henderson in fact owns the land where the old rail line crosses his property. The judge has not yet decided whether the state has a legal right of way or easement over Henderson’s property.

BDN writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.

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