June 24, 2018
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Freeport considers eminent domain takeover of private property near Downeaster train stop

By JT Leonard, Times Record

FREEPORT, Maine — Unless an agreement is reached soon, the town will begin eminent domain proceedings to acquire a piece of land between the Visitors Center on Depot Street and the newly built Amtrak passenger train platform.

Town Manager Dale Olmstead said the town continues to negotiate with the landowner, but that time is running out. Passenger train service from Brunswick to Boston on the Amtrak Downeaster is scheduled to begin in November. The town will need time to engineer and mark the pedestrian walkway from the parking area to the platform, Olmstead said.

A public hearing is set for 8 p.m. Sept. 18, at the town office on Main Street. After the hearing, if no agreement has been reached, the council will vote to exercise eminent domain, offer the landowner “an amount of money” for the parcel, and take ownership of it.

Eminent domain is a provision of state law which permits local or state government to annex a piece of land in the general interest either of the state or municipality. Usually used to eliminate blighted land or in the case of a widespread infrastructure emergency, such as the road collapse that affected Route 136 from Durham to Auburn in 2010, eminent domain also can be used to acquire land or property in the name of general services improvement.

When it happens, the municipality is obligated to offer the landowner compensation approximate to the land’s market value. The landowner can appeal the amount of compensation, but not the annexation.

In this case, Olmstead said, “we’re still negotiating with the landowner.”

In other business, councilors tentatively agreed to give Harold Arndt’s Island Rover project a three-year reprieve as long as Arndt can meet several conditions.

The town originally imposed a January 2013 completion deadline on the 113-foot, steel-hulled research vessel project, which currently is in violation of the town’s zoning ordinance. If approved, an extension proposed Tuesday by council Chairman Jim Cassida would give Arndt until January 2016 either to complete the vessel or arrange to have it removed from his Lower Flying Point work site to another suitably zoned location.

However, the extension comes with several conditions: Arndt must submit to yearly Department of Environmental Protection inspections of the site, and he must arrange for an irrevocable letter of credit that would cover the cost of moving the boat if he doesn’t finish it, as well as cleaning up the job site to state environmental standards.

No dollar amount for the letter of credit has been specified. Councilors and Arndt will work together to choose a neutral third party to assess the project and site and come up with a number.

Also Tuesday, a number of street lights were approved for elimination in order to save on the town’s energy costs. Problem is, none of the councilors is sure exactly how many of the lights, or where they are located, they agreed to extinguish. Councilors are waiting for the meeting’s minutes to be transcribed in order to determine what they agreed to do.

It began as an energy savings issue. In May 2011, Bartlett Design of West Bath performed a review of every street light in Freeport. The consultant recommended 65 lights townwide which, the report said, could be eliminated to save energy without putting pedestrians or motorists at risk.

After the Traffic & Parking Committee conducted its review process, the list was reduced to 45 lights. A series of public hearings further reduced the elimination list to 25 lights, almost all of them in rural locations.

The lights in question vary in age and design. But all of them are fairly small, said town engineer Albert Presgraves, which means they cost “about 10 bucks a month per light.” Depending on how many lights ultimately are darkened, the town could save about $10,000 a year.

Poles will not be torn down; only the bulbs and hoods will be removed.

According to the town’s agreement with Central Maine Power, street lights in general cost between $10 and $20 per month, per light, to operate and maintain.

In addition to lights slated for removal, six more lights are scheduled to be installed. All of the additions are in downtown village areas, where there are existing sidewalks or crosswalks:

• Corner of Main and Bow streets.

• Bow Street, between South and Dennison streets.

• Two lights would be installed on Kendall Lane, between existing lights which illuminate a sidewalk leading to Freeport Middle School.

• Intersection of Justin’s Way and Snow Road.

• Snow Road, between Justin’s Way and Freeport High School.

All of the new lights would feature sodium bulbs with hoods designed to operate efficiently while limiting “sky glow,” Presgraves said.

No date has been given either for the removal or installation of lights.

See more from the Times Record at timesrecord.com.

Correction: Due to a production error, an early version of this story said the writer works for the Journal Tribune. JT Leonard writes for the Times Record.

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