Anne and Chauncey Bancroft are regular walkers on Spring Street and the nearby Ellsworth Pedestrian/Bicycle Trail. A proposed trail extension would continue the Ellsworth trail over the railroad crossing at Birch Avenue and down Spring Street to Beals Avenue. FILE PHOTO

City Council approves trail extension funds

ELLSWORTH — Councilors discussed at length committing $100,000 to a proposed extension of the Ellsworth Bicycle/Pedestrian Trail before approving the motion 6-1. Gene Lyons was the single “no” vote, but several councilors voiced concerns at the June 21 council meeting.

The project, presented by Economic Development Director Janna Richards and Public Works Director Lisa Sekulich, has been in the works since 2019, when the City Council approved expending funds to match Maine Department of Transportation’s contribution for a feasibility study of the project. 

“This is a smaller piece of the bigger picture of Ellsworth,” Richards told councilors.

The existing trail runs alongside the railroad tracks from Ellsworth Falls near Sunrise Glass to Birch Avenue. The extension would close off a portion of Spring Street for a three-quarter-mile walking and bicycle path from Birch Avenue to Main Street. A second phase would connect the trail to the Sunrise Trail where it meets High Street near Beals Avenue. A $400,000 Maine DOT grant that requires the $100,000 match, would cover engineering and construction for the first phase and preliminary engineering designs for the second phase, Richards said. However, in order to apply for the grant, the community must first commit to the match.

“This is cheap dollars that will save lives and improve people’s health,” said Councilor Marc Blanchette, who has been pushing for council approval of the matching funds since April but saw the agenda item tabled until Monday night.

The biggest issue for councilors is a 20-year maintenance plan required by the Maine DOT grant that could cost over $1 million over 20 years, as Sekulich explained that the snow removal would push her department’s resources to the point of adding a full-time employee. 

“That [MDOT] money’s not free. We’re seeing that in front of us now,” Councilor John Phillips said.

Chairman Dale Hamilton agreed. “I think that’s absurd,” he said of the maintenance expense, suggesting the city could finance the $1.5 million project through a bond or cover the full engineering plan costs so as to be “shovel-ready” before deciding on the next step forward.

“But it doesn’t get the project built,” Blanchette said, pointing to walking trails in Bar Harbor and Bucksport. “Ellsworth has a city council that just wants to dither and do nothing and to look at nothing but the dollars and not spending [them]. What does that do for the residents of Ellsworth?”

Hamilton said the project has merit and would add value to the community.

“It has a lot of potential to connect the city in a way we don’t have now,” he said.

But Lyons and Councilor Michelle Kaplan said that much-needed work on local roads should be prioritized over a walking path, with Lyons noting, “As of now, you can walk from Birch to Main Street with no problem. It’s smoother than some of the main roads we have.”

Blanchette eventually made a motion authorizing the local match, with a second motion committing to maintaining the trail. That second motion was approved 5-2, with Lyons and Kaplan voting against it. Councilors noted that the approval did not commit them to a specific maintenance plan and that further discussion would take place if MDOT awarded the grant and it was then accepted by the city.

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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