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South Portland council balks at land purchase

South Portland council balks at land purchase

SOUTH PORTLAND — Councilors said yes to natural gas boilers and bus tracking devices, but no to land acquisition, in a combined meeting and workshop Monday.

With the passage of an order allocating almost $127,000 to convert the heating system at Mahoney Middle School to natural gas, School Department Director of Maintenance and Grounds Russ Brigham said converting two boilers to natural gas and relining the school chimney could be completed before the new school year begins in September.

The contract was awarded to Portland-based Northeast Mechanical Services, the sole bidder on the project. City Manager James Gailey said the company is the only area firm licensed to work on the type of boilers at the school.

Councilors also approved entering a memorandum of understanding with 23 other municipalities comprising the Greater Portland Council of Governments to buy technology and tracking systems for public transportation.

Using GPS to monitor individual buses, the system will provide real-time information on the location of buses in area transportation systems, including any possible delays. The information will then be available online and via mobile apps.

City Transportation Director Tom Meyers said he would like to install message boards at bus shelters and the city public transpiration hub to provide the same information for riders who do not have Internet access.

According to a memo by Gailey, the total cost of the what is called the Automatic Vehicle Location system is not known, but the city has $123,000 available to contribute. The money is from grants, including $96,000 in federal funds.

After approving the agreement, councilors also approved a second memo of understanding with GPCOG to find common branding and marketing methods to draw riders to public transportation systems.

In a workshop following the meeting, councilors decided against making a bid for a property at 159 Cottage Road that is slated to be auctioned next month.

Gailey said the lot, owned by Getty Realty Corp., is the site of a former gas station and auto repair shop. It is now used by Tammaro Landscaping & Property Services. Posted auction signs drew the interest of city officials, including South Portland Public Library Director Kevin Davis, because it abuts the library property.

The building dates to 1965, the property was last sold in 1985, and Gailey said the lot and building are part of a company effort sell properties throughout the state.

Gailey and Davis said they saw benefit beyond library use for the land and noted a cleared site would add visual appeal and pedestrian access.

Traffic engineers have told Gailey intersection improvements where Cottage Road, Highland Avenue and Richmond Street converge are difficult to achieve because of a lack of rights of way.

"We are looking at it as a community asset," Davis said, with a chance to buy the quarter-acre property for less than its $195,000 asking price. The property will be auctioned by Tranzon Auction Properties of Portland at noon Aug. 8.

Councilors did not discuss a specific bid even as they saw benefit to tearing down the building, but the possibility of soil contamination on the site posed a challenge.

"It might be that we don't want it either," Councilor Tom Coward said even as he doubted the corner is economically viable for any business.

Coward noted the property might be bought with a minimal bid, and the city would need to make a $5,000 deposit before bidding.

Mayor Patti Smith said Maine Department of Environmental Protection records show gas tanks were removed in 2006, but records indicate the site will need remedial work to remove hazards and a cleanup will be needed if the building is razed.

'There's no doubt it is an eyesore," Councilor Al Livingston said. "However, I am concerned about the future costs."

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

159 Cottage Road, South Portland, Maine