BELFAST, Maine — Citing a communications breakdown with the Penobscot McCrum potato processing plant, Belfast officials said they will discuss — and possibly decide — this week whether to go ahead and use eminent domain to get a recreation easement across the company’s waterfront land.
“All I can say is that I left numerous email and phone messages in the last week with the [company’s attorney],” Kristin Collins, Belfast attorney, said Monday afternoon. “I don’t want to construe any lack of communication as deliberate. When it’s between attorneys, you never know. People could just be busy. But the problem is we need to move forward.”
However, on Monday afternoon, owner Jay McCrum said the city’s decision to proceed this week surprised him.
“I thought we had great discussions,” he said, adding that the company has its own appraiser working to put a value on the 10-foot-wide strip of land. “We told the city we were going to get back with them with an appraisal as soon as we can. There’s no lack of communication whatsoever. It’s 100 percent open dialogue.”
The recreation easement the city wants would provide pedestrian, bicycle and emergency access to Belfast’s new rail trail across a 700-foot-long strip of land owned by Penobscot McCrum. After a public hearing on July 5 about the city’s controversial proposal to take the easement by eminent domain, Belfast city councilors and McCrum indicated they would continue searching for a resolution. But City Manager Joe Slocum wrote in his manager’s report late last week that negotiations apparently have stalled after a positive meeting on July 6.
“Unfortunately there was no further communication from Penobscot McCrum,” Slocum wrote. “The easement … does not interfere with Penobscot McCrum’s ability to operate or take full advantage of its waterfront resources.”
The council will take the matter up again at its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 19.
McCrum said that the city has yet to answer satisfactorily what happens if a pedestrian or cyclist goes off the walkway and is “injured, maimed or even killed” on company land.
“We thought we’d get something from the city. Some type of structure. When would it be open? How would it be managed?” he said. “What responsibility would the city take in that situation, being that they invited them on the walkway? It was made clear that the city takes no responsibility whatsoever.”
Collins said that the issue was raised when the two parties met earlier in July.
“But if it is a point of concern, it has not been mentioned since then,” she said.
McCrum said he would not attend the July 19 regular council meeting because he is going to be out of town.
Collins said that the city has made sure to let the company and its attorney know that the matter is on the agenda.
“In the messages I’ve left with his attorney I’ve made it clear that this is happening tomorrow night,” she said. “There is awareness that this issue would be on the agenda coming up for several weeks until it’s resolved.”