Freeport council kills Pownal Road land transfer

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FREEPORT — The town will retain recreational property on Pownal Road after the Town Council Tuesday night rejected a proposal to transfer the land to Regional School Unit 5.

The council Tuesday also agreed to lease a Depot Street building for use as a passenger rail station.

The council voted 6-1 against the proposed property transfer to RSU 5, essentially saving the property for the town, but now obligating it to pay for a costly environmental permit before it’s needed.

The portion of the property the town voted to keep is between Hunter and Pownal roads and is a 7-acre section of a 60-acre parcel. The fields are already in use as athletic fields.

The council instead passed a motion that seeks an extension on the environmental review from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

In addition to the extension, the council will seek to become a state-sanctioned environmental protection delegate, giving the town permit-granting authority and the ability to conduct environmental reviews at much lower costs. The town will also develop a comprehensive plan for the Hunter Road Fields.

But if an extension is not granted, the council will need to quickly discuss how to fund the estimated $20,000-$40,000 DEP review.

The initial plan for the review was requested by a Freeport resident concerned about the environmental impact of using the fields.

Amtrak station

L.L. Bean and the town will enter into a new 10-year-lease agreement for property on Depot Street, after the council approved the agreement at the meeting. The property will be used as a future train station for Amtrak, following a $50,000 conversion.

Rent on the property will be $1 a year.

This station will provide shelter for Amtrak’s Downeaster service, which is slated to begin in October. The cost of operating the station is expected to be neutral to taxpayers through partnerships with town nonprofits.

In advance of a public meeting next month, the council also held a brief discussion related to the Amtrak service about establishing “quiet zones,” which would prohibit trains from whistling when approaching designated intersections.

Neighbors along the railroad tracks said they were concerned about train whistles during the night disrupting their sleeping patterns and general lifestyles.

The council discussed channelization, a traffic separation system that basically prevents vehicles from skirting around railroad crossing arms, which can eliminate the frequent use of train whistles at gated intersections . The estimated cost for each of the eight installations would be about $15,000, according to the council.

The “quiet zones” meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m., Aug. 7, in the Town Hall Council Chambers.

In other business, the council:

• Unanimously endorsed a grant that would partially pay to build sidewalks on Elm Street and Snow Road, a common walking path for students to get to school. The town is seeking two Safe Routes to School/Transportation Enhancements grants, but will likely only be rewarded with one. The maximum cost to the town would be $60,000, according to the council.

• Approved $25,000 for a new engine for a Fire Department pick-up truck, which will be paid for through the firefighter’s fund.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.

This story was corrected July 19 to reflect the accurate costs of the proposed quiet zones.