BELFAST, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A city in Waldo County has gotten into a dispute with one of its biggest employers, and it could end up with the taking of some land by eminent domain.
The Belfast city manager said it's not something the city wants to do. The property owner doesn't want them to do it.
People will get their say at a public hearing on this dispute Tuesday night.
It's all about connecting two hiking trails that run along the waterfront. The new rail trail opens in a few weeks, but the only way to reach that trail is to cross over land that's owned by longtime local business Penobscot McCrum. That's the issue.
Penobscot McCrum has been a fixture on the waterfront for years. Now, the city wants to have a narrow strip of land right along the water — the old railroad bed — to connect to a new, two-mile walking trail. The city manager said connecting the trail is a big deal.
"It's a hugely important thing to the city," said Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum.
But Penobscot McCrum marketing manager Gregg Skafidas said the proposed trail connector runs too close to the plant's ammonia system, and right up against their propane tanks. A bad place, he said, and that even his wife thought so.
"It's all about public safety" Skafidas said. "When [my wife] came over and looked at it and said, 'absolutely not.' I wouldn't walk my kids there between the propane, the trash, the ammonia tanks and the active trucks we've been disrupted twice now by trucks moving through."
The city and the plant's owner had talked about the idea of the trail for several years but never got far. Now, the council has offered $55,000 for the land and set a deadline. Then, when the company didn't respond, the Belfast council scheduled a public hearing; the first step, that could lead to taking the land by eminent domain.
"We don't want to," Slocum said. "We never wanted to."
Slocum said they want to negotiate an agreement with Penobscot McCrum.
"Right now, we think we have about 11 feet we don't have to touch that propane system and that would give us the ability to get an emergency vehicle in there," Slocum said. "Right now, we aren't going to have to move the propane system at all."
The company says the safety problems are real, especially with the ammonia tanks system.
"If there's a leak, there's no way to contain it if there are people walking here," Skafidas said.
The business has a different idea: offering to give the city land behind the plant where the old footpath already connects to the trail and $25,000 to help build it. But the city said the land is too steep, and would cost too much to build an accessible trail.
The city manager says he's sure they can work something out to allow the trail to go through and promised they would do all they could to address the company's safety concerns. But he also said Belfast has no "plan B".
They expect to heat a lot more at Tuesday night's public hearing.