BELFAST, Maine — In an apparent 11th-hour change of heart, the owner of Penobscot McCrum is offering to build a trail through the company’s waterfront property and lease it to the city.
If it goes through, the move would negate the city’s controversial proposal to seize by eminent domain an easement through the McCrum property in order to connect a new 2.3-mile rail trail on one side with the Belfast Harbor Walk and downtown on the other.
“We just offered to build a rail trail on our property and lease it to the town,” Jay McCrum, owner of Penobscot McCrum, said Wednesday night after meeting in a fairly lengthy executive session with the Belfast City Council. “We had a great discussion.”
After coming out of executive session for their regular meeting, the councilors tabled the night’s first new business agenda item, which was to consider an order for the taking of a public recreational easement across the land owned by the potato-processing company.
Later that night, Belfast city attorney Kristin Collins said that the council has authorized City Manager Joe Slocum and the attorneys to talk to McCrum and see if there is a “feasible way” to accomplish his proposal. City officials have been trying for years to negotiate with owner Jay McCrum to find a way to cross the 700-foot-long strip of land and connect the rail trail with the harbor walk.
This spring, city officials told McCrum that it was a matter of public necessity to get the easement and that Belfast would pay “full and fair value” for it, Slocum said. The city offered him $55,000 for a 14-foot-wide easement across the property, based on an independent appraisal. When they hadn’t heard a response by early June, the council voted unanimously to use eminent domain to take a recreation easement to cross the property.
At that point, management of McCrum asked the city to consider rerouting the trail onto a steep hillside behind the potato processing plant, saying that it was unsafe to have pedestrians and bicyclists cross the property. But the city objected, saying that the “goat path” alternative was impractical and expensive.
Now, time is of the essence, Collins said Wednesday, because the city is eager to officially open the gravel pedestrian and bicycle trail that runs from the intersection of City Point and Kaler roads toward downtown Belfast.
“It would have to be pretty quick,” the attorney said, referring to the city coming to an agreement with Penobscot McCrum. “It would be great to come to terms in a negotiated agreement. It’s fair to say that we don’t have any terms laid out at this point. It’s something to be discussed, and we’re going to try earnestly to come to an agreement.”
Belfast City Councilor Mike Hurley said Thursday that the council is glad to talk to McCrum about the trail, which ideally would be done as soon as possible.
“It’s certainly what we wanted all along,” he said, adding that the specifics and the timeline still need to be worked out. “The devil is always in the details, and people are working on that right now.”