WESTBROOK — The city has decided to buy land from Sappi North America, Inc., to expand the city’s River Walk.

On Monday, the city council approved purchasing a tract of land on the northern side of the Presumpscot River between Bridge Street and the Black (railroad) Bridge and the island in the middle of the Presumpscot River above Saccarappa Falls.

The $350,000 purchase is being funded through a $100,000 donation from the Cornelia Warren Community Association and a $250,000 contribution from the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corporation.

The actual conveyance of the land from the mill to the city will not happen until the project to remove the dams on the river and restore natural fish passage is completed. A deadline to do that is set for May 2021. The deal also includes a provision in which Sappi will provide an easement to the city for a 10-foot walking path over mill property from Dana Court to land owned by Central Maine Power behind Breton Street. The hope is to one day connect the trail to a trail Portland Trails operates behind the old Conant family house, now owned by Michael Shaughnessy.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said a phase 2 environmental assessment is now underway. A phase 1 environmental assessment was done and found no significant environmental concerns with the properties.

In correspondence to city councilors, Bryant said, “this is an outstanding opportunity for the City of Westbrook to obtain valuable riverfront properties to be used for visual and physical public access to the Presumpscot River.”

The goal is to use the land north of the river to extend the Riverwalk on the other side of the waterway. The design for the project, dubbed River Walk North, has been approved, but money for construction hasn’t been set aside yet. Former city planner Molly Just said at an Aug. 27, 2015 meeting that funding for the project would most likely come from a variety of grants and city sources, and would be constructed in phases.

Westbrook Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson has listed expanding the Riverwalk as one of his top priorities for 2019.

The use of the island has not been determined yet.

While the purchase agreement has been worked out between the city and Sappi, what is still up in the air is where the contractor will store construction materials, equipment and supplies during the work. Sappi of North America, which owns the dams, was set to reach an agreement May 6 with the city to get an easement to use Saccarappa Park as a staging area in exchange for a $3,500 donation to Westbrook Arts & Culture for downtown sculpture. The mill, however, pulled that request from the table, forcing councilors to postpone that item indefinitely.

The park has previously been used in a similar fashion for the reconstruction of Bridge Street and the accompanying pedestrian bridge and the construction of the Riverwalk.

Sappi’s decision caught Bryant off guard.

“As far as I know, they are going to find a new location for their lay down area,” he said.

Barry Stemm, engineering manager with Sappi, said he could not offer specifics and deferred comment to the mill’s corporate communications office.  Olga Karagiannis, manager of corporate communications for Sappi, could not be reached.

Bryant said the city and Sappi have long had a great relationship of land easements, something he will work to continue to maintain. The mill has allowed residents to use land the company owns behind the Northern New England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (former Warren Memorial Library) as a parking lot to access the recreational complex that includes Fraser Field and the Cornelia Warren Outdoor Pool. Sappi has also given the city permission to use mill-owned land on Warren Avenue as the city snow dump and the Westbrook Little League program permission to use mill property on Bridge Street for youth baseball and softball.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews

The city council has agreed to buy a tract of land along the northside of the Presumpscot River between Bridge Street and the black railroad bridge from Sappi North America. The plan is to use the land as an extention of the downtown River Walk. The sale also includes the island above Saccarappa Falls.

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