Downeaster expansion could include Bath

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BATH — A stop at the 15 Commercial St. train station, now used as a visitor center, could be part of the expansion of Amtrak Downeaster passenger rail service this summer.

At the City Council’s meeting Wednesday night, Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, presented the proposed “Coastal Connection” expansion of the Downeaster, which would extend the Boston-to-Brunswick service to Rockland via Bath, Wiscasset and Newcastle.

The City Council also gave first passage to a moratorium on retail marijuana establishments and approved a multi-million dollar bid on an update to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Using rail as an alternative would help alleviate U.S. Route 1 traffic congestion during the summer, when Wiscasset sees 18,000 to 25,000 cars a day, Quinn said. Council Chairwoman Mari Eosco, also interim director of the Main Street Bath organization, noted that merchants would welcome the greater influx of people into the city without the usual related uptick in vehicle traffic.

“It’s a really great way for us to have exposure to our city,” Eosco said. “And to show everyone what a great place we live in.”

The service would run Friday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday between June 30 and Labor Day weekend. Municipal support and community support are important factors in the expansion being a success, Quinn said.

Bath’s station building needs no work, Quinn said. Its existing platform must ensure wheelchair accessibility, and tweaks could be made to access and lighting.

The council expressed support for the project through a straw poll, and the panel will issue a letter indicating that backing, Eosco said.

Marijuana

The council voted 5-1 on the retail marijuana moratorium after deciding in January 2017 against  a freeze on marijuana sales, expecting the state within the next months to establish governance in the matter.

“Unfortunately, the implementation of state-level rules has taken substantially longer than expected,” Planning and Development Director Andrew Deci said in a Feb. 1 council memo. “Entrepreneurs are now pushing the boundaries of the existing medical marijuana program – opening retail storefronts and providing “retail” sales to non-patient customers. The pressure for retail storefronts to open is growing as the rules are still being developed in Augusta.”

City staff as a result are proposing a six-month moratorium – which Deci referred to Wednesday as “a pause” – on retail marijuana establishments, as well as “other non-state licensed dispensary options.”

Councilor Terry Nordmann voted against the freeze, after making an unseconded motion to table the matter. He expressed concern about the moratorium discouraging business.

The council is due to vote on the matter a second and final time March 7.

Treatment plant

The council also unanimously approved a $4.7 million bid for this year’s city wastewater treatment plant update.

Apex Construction submitted the lowest qualified bid. The project will be paid for by a $9.8 million bond approved in November 2015. The work includes constructing a new sludge storage tank and replacing sludge de-watering equipment as well as chemical storage and feeding systems.

The panel also authorized the $216,000 purchase of a 2016 Schwarze Tornado street sweeper from HP Fairfield of Scarborough, which had been used for demonstration purposes only. The acquisition replaces a 2000 model.

Wednesday’s meeting opened with a presentation to former Councilor James Omo for nine years of service, and to Capt. David Hudson for his 31 years with the Bath Fire Department.

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

Recently retired Bath Fire Capt. David Hudson, left, was lauded Wednesday by City Council Chairwoman Mari Eosco for 31 years of service to the city. James Omo was also honored for nine years of service on the council.

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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.