BELFAST — Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad President Rod Rodrigue’s claims that the rail yard is contaminated with poisons have apparently struck a chord at City Hall.
In a report briefing the City Council in advance of their meeting Tuesday night, City Manager Arlo Redman referred to the problems at the rail yard. He also reminded them of questions surrounding the parcel’s apparent lack of title.
Redman raised both issues when referring to the recent $425,000 offer for the property and railroad stock-purchase contract from cruise boat operator Lynn Hall of Islesboro.
Redman’s comments followed his financial analysis that Hall’s offer for the rail yard amounted to $225,000 in today’s dollars. He estimated the value of the stock contract at $55,000. When combined the two figures “produce a present value for the real estate of $170,000,” Redman said.
Besides providing the council with his present value estimate, Redman’s report added that, “Conversely, Lynn has not raised any issue regarding merchantability of title or environmental concerns which could have an impact on the value of the property.”
Almost from the moment he and Charles Sturtevant purchased the city’s controlling interest in the railroad for $150,000 three years ago, Rodrigue has identified pollution and lack of title as reasons the property was not worth what the city was asking.
The city this summer offered to sell a portion of that land to Rodrigue but he balked at both the terms of the deal and the size of the parcel. While the city wanted a five-year payment schedule, Rodrigue wanted 30 years to pay for the property. He also demanded that all the land the railroad sold to the city in the mid-1980s be included in the deal. The city bought the parcels at a time when the railroad was having financial problems and needed an infusion of cash.
“We’re offering nothing but the piece of land the railroad sits on. The rest is not for sale,” Councilor Richard McGray said Monday. “He wants those other parcels and we can’t do that. We can’t sell Heritage Park. We’re not selling that right of way.”
Redman’s observation about “environmental concerns” are based in part on a 1991 study by Coffin Engineering that revealed that much of the rail yard was created by the dumping of trash and industrial byproducts. For the most part the rail yard was once a city dump.
According to Rodrigue a shoe factory located across the street from the rail yard in the 1880s filled the area with tailings from production as well as the remains from their tanning process. He claims that traces of heavy metals used in both processes remain under the surface of the yard.
In addition, Rodrigue also contends that residue from oil spills permeate the soil as does a 6,000 gallon spill of liquid asphalt. The asphalt spill apparently occurred under the main freight house and that local businessman’s pet dog perished when it became stuck in the goo.
As to the question of land title, at the time the city purchased the parcels from the railroad, the B&ML was represented by Attorney Francis Marsano, now a Superior Court justice.
Marsano recalled last year that when asked by the city to give a title opinion with respect to the real estate, “It was our view that no opinion could be furnished as title was not marketable.” Marsano said he “made it clear” at the time that, “I would not give a title opinion on the real estate.”
He based his reluctance on the fact that much of the property in question consisted of filled “intertidal lands by either the city through its own use or with its permission. …”
Redman’s report also made reference to comments on the issue provided last week by City Attorney John Carver. When asked for copies of those opinions Redman said they were protected by the attorney-client relationship. He refused to make them public.