Bath hopes river trail will ‘open up waterfront for development’

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BATH — The city plans this year to build part of a half-mile walking trail along the Kennebec River, with completion of the entire project expected in 2019.

The project is contingent on Bath gaining easements to portions of the planned projects that it does not own, which Planning Director Andrew Deci hopes to accomplish before April.

The $1.8 million endeavor, with the bonded debt to be paid for through tax increment financing funds, was originally to run from the visitors center at 15 Commercial St. north to the front of the 40-unit Bath RiverWalk condominium complex.

But a desire to not have the trail dead-end there, but rather loop back to its starting point, has led city staff to explore its extension to north of the condominiums and back down Front Street to the visitors center, Deci said in a Jan. 18 interview alongside City Planner Ben Averill.

That change in scope, and the additional planning and permitting required, has delayed construction of the project about a year, with completion eyed for mid-2019, Deci said.

How much the extra length would add to the cost is still being determined.

Thanks to the city’s Commercial Street sidewalk project, a 600-foot portion from underneath the Sagadahoc Bridge to Waterfront Park will be developed this spring. The former Guilford Transportation Industries gravel lot, ownership of which will transfer from the state to the city, is to become a park, with children’s activities and an approximately 25-space parking lot built beneath the bridge.

One of the goals of the project “is to open up our waterfront for development activity,” Deci said, expressing hope that the River Walk will spark activity at the former BFC Marine building at 47 Commercial St., additional uses at the rear of the freight shed at 27 Commercial St., and farther up the street at the Bathport complex.

He said the city hopes to see “what those tenants can do in the future when there is a public space on the back side.”

Although Bath has many places to get food, it lacks outdoor places to eat it, Deci noted, pointing out the benefits of more options along the river.

“I can see a taco place with beer opening up and sitting on a small cafe space off of the River Walk on the back of BathPort at some point,” he suggested.

Existing paths within the city’s Waterfront Park will be incorporated into the River Walk. Along with the portions of the trail it already owns, the city is negotiating easements on other sections.

“We’re hoping for this to be a partnership,” Deci said. “… I’m hopeful to have all the right titles and interest done before April.”

The project also requires site plan approval from the Planning Board.

Deci said he hopes it will showcase the Kennebec as an asset to Bath and its coastal neighbors.

“We’re hopeful that this is a destination that is shared by visitors and tourists as well as locals,” he said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Redevelopment of the former Guilford Transportation Industries lot along the Kennebec near the Sagadahoc Bridge is part of Bath’s planned River Walk project, which could be complete next year.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.