March 18, 2018
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Freeport council OKs use of eminent domain to take land near new Downeaster train platform

By Will Graff, The Forecaster

FREEPORT, Maine — The town is now authorized to use eminent domain to create an easement to its new passenger rail station.

With negotiations for acquisition of the small strip of property continuing, whether the town will actually use the land-taking tool remains to be seen.

A unanimous vote by the Town Council on Tuesday night came after the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority last week announced a Nov. 1 start of Amtrak Downeaster service between Boston and Brunswick, with a stop in Freeport.

The easement is for a strip of land in the parking lot between the Visitors Center on Depot Street and the new Amtrak train platform. Edward Bonney, chairman of the Freeport Train Station Committee, told the council the land is an essential piece needed to guarantee passengers can access the passenger train.

“If you don’t get this easement, the train will not stop in Freeport,” he said, noting a similar situation in Saco, where the town was not fully prepared for the train and it did not stop until everything was resolved.

Eminent domain would only be used for the easement next to the parking lot.

The town has been in negotiations with the landowner for several months over the easement, and the entire parking lot, but has not been able to reach an agreement.

The landowner started out asking four to five times the appraised value, Town Manager Dale Olmstead said Tuesday, but has come down on the price significantly in recent negotiations to the assessed value — about $300,000 for the entire lot.

Eminent domain allows the town to take the property regardless of whether the landowner wants to give it up. The town is required to offer money for the property, which can be appealed by the landowner, although the decision to take the land cannot be appealed.

If the town ever decides to build a larger station in the future, the land would be the “ideal spot” for expansion and long-term parking, which the town currently lacks, Olmstead said.

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