2016-01-29 / Front Page

Is this the year for Eastern Trail link?

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


The long anticipated connection of the Eastern Trail from the Nonesuch River in Scarborough to Wainwright Farm Recreation Complex in South Portland could materialize by December 2017 if enough funding for the project can be raised. The Eastern Trail runs from Kittery to Casco Bay and is part of the larger East Coast Greenway, which spans Florida to Maine. (Michael Kelley photo) The long anticipated connection of the Eastern Trail from the Nonesuch River in Scarborough to Wainwright Farm Recreation Complex in South Portland could materialize by December 2017 if enough funding for the project can be raised. The Eastern Trail runs from Kittery to Casco Bay and is part of the larger East Coast Greenway, which spans Florida to Maine. (Michael Kelley photo) With Army Corps of Engineers and Maine Department of Environmental Protection approval in hand, it’s a “critical year” for a long-term project to connect the Eastern Trail between the Nonesuch River in Scarborough and the Wainwright Farm Recreation Complex in South Portland.

So says Scarborough Town Planner Dan Bacon.

“Completing this corridor would finally connect Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and points south all the way to South Portland and Portland,” Bacon said at a town council workshop last week.

Although only 1.6 miles long, making the connection between the two communities has been, according to Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall, a “daunting task,” in part because it requires building bridges over the Nonesuch River and Pan Am Railways tracks.

Bacon said finding a connection that works “without bumping into” private property has been challenging. Thus the proposed trail alignment follows a Central Maine Power corridor by Pleasant Hill Road before heading toward Prout’s Pond toward South Portland and eventually into the Wainwright complex. An alignment that passed by the pond prior to joining Highland Avenue and Gary L. Maietta Way was ultimately scrapped because of safety concerns for trail users.

The challenge at hand now is funding the roughly $3 million project, including the costs of the Nonesuch River Bridge ($75,000+) and railroad bridge ($700,000 to $1 million). The northern stretch – approximately 4,200 feet from Wainwright to Pleasant Hill Road – has been funded thanks to a grant from Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS) and local shares from Scarborough and South Portland. Funding for the southern half, which includes the two bridges, is still up in the air, but PACTS and the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) have promised to fund sizable shares.

“The DOT sees this as the most important bike/ped project in the state right now and has dedicated almost half of the funding because of that feeling,” Bacon said.

The DOT has committed $1.5 million to the project and PACTS has committed another $650,000. The local share of the project from Scarborough and South Portland would be $216,000, meaning another $700,000 would have to be raised from other funding sources.

Despite the funding situation, Bacon said, “we are certainly much closer than we were.”

Bacon said officials are “courting organizations like Hannaford, Iberdrola (CMP’s parent company) and Cianbro for funding or in-kind donations.

“It will take those type of donors to make this happen and close that final gap,” he said.

While it is clear the council supports the trail extension to South Portland, how Scarborough is going to fund its share of the project was less clear.

“Funding is the key issue, but the concept is excellent,” said Council Chairman William Donovan.

“I have a real tough time with that,” Councilor Kate St. Clair said of the local share, “especially with the financial strain the community is in. It is a tough thing for me to swallow.”

Vice Chairman Shawn Babine said he is not concerned with the $216,000 local share, but rather the remaining $700,000 that needs to be raised.

“I think this is great,” he said. “It’s the final stage of something that has been in the works for 15 years.”

Hall said he intends to include some funding for the project in the capital improvement budget, although it will be “something less than the $216,000.”

Councilor Peter Hayes, who uses the Eastern Trail frequently, wondered if collection boxes could be placed along the trail for voluntary donations.

Donation boxes are something Carole Brush, executive director of the Eastern Trail Management District, said Eastern Trail officials have been thinking about. She said the groups have also got the word out about the trail extension through their normal communication channels.

“Our literature is all about the need to raise money for the trail project,” she said.

Brush, a Scarborough resident, said she has also been meeting with people from communities the Eastern Trail passes through about the project.

“There is a lot of interest and a lot of energy around it,” she said, adding the Eastern Trail Management District and Bike Coalition of Maine are working on an application for a $50,000 Rails to Trail grant.

Bacon said barring any fundraising setbacks, the project could start early next spring. The hope is to have final environmental permitting done by October and final design by December. The project could be awarded and construction started in March 2017, which could mean completion of the trail project by December 2017.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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