The city of Portland would acquire a stretch of old rail line between Forest Avenue and St. John Street, a portion of which is seen above alongside Deering Oaks Park with I-295 in the background, as part of a proposed land swap with the state. The state would construct a multi-use path on the rail line. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The City Council next week will consider a land swap with the state that could pave the way for municipal development behind the Cumberland County Jail and the construction of a multi-use path along old railroad tracks between I-295 and Deering Oaks, Fitzpatrick Stadium and Hadlock Field.

The Maine Department of Transportation has been leasing the International Marine Terminal land on the Portland waterfront from the city for a decade. Under a proposed land swap, the department would own it. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Under the proposal, city-owned property at the International Marine Terminal and the wharf on Cliff Island would become owned by the Maine Department of Transportation. In exchange, the city would get 10 acres of DOT land on County Way, a section of the former Union Station branch of the Portland-Rochester rail line that runs from Forest Avenue to St. John Street, and the parking lot next to Miss Portland Diner on Marginal Way.

As part of the rail corridor land swap, the DOT would construct a multi-use path from Deering Oaks to just west of Hadlock Field.

The deal has been in the works since 2018, when then-DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt approached the city about acquiring the International Marine Terminal property, which the DOT and the Maine Port Authority have been leasing since 2009.

“The department has invested upwards of $70 million into that site and we would like to know we own so we can continue to invest in something the state owns,” said Nate Moulton, DOT’s director of freight and passenger services.

If the International Marine Terminal does come under state ownership, it will continue to operate as it does now, Moulton said.

While the department sees value in acquiring the terminal, a number of the parcels, including land behind the county jail, don’t factor into its long-terms plans.

The state bought the County Way land from the Portland Terminal Company in 2002 to construct the Fore River Parkway and to expand passenger rail service north of Portland.

“At one point, it was going to potentially be used for what we call a ‘Y,’ a turnoff for the Portland (train) station. That is no longer on the table as a potential,” Moulton said.

The site has some environmental concerns, but the city sees it as a prime site for future development. According to a 2019 environmental assessment by Woodard and Curran, the property had reportedly been used a landfill/dump and because of its use as a former rail yard, has elevated levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.

A second round of assessment, including a wetlands delineation study, will begin soon. The city has six months to complete that work.

The 10-acre parcel, situated between Westfield Street, the Cumberland County Jail and the Fore River Parkway, is one of the last undeveloped parcels of that size on the peninsula. It has been brought up as a possible location to relocate the Portland Police Department headquarters and was looked at as a possible site for the new homeless services center before the 654 Riverside St. location was chosen.

“We do not have any plans for the property at this time and future use would be determined through a public discussion among city leadership and residents,” said Jessica Grondin, the city’s director of communication. “This is a large tract of land, which is scarce on the peninsula. We thought that site control and ownership of the property made sense so we could have a public discussion at some point in the future about how we’d like to influence the direction of future development.”

The second phase of an environmental impact analysis will be completed before the properties are exchanged.

Grondin said the parking lot next to Miss Portland Diner will be used by the city for a future transportation project.

“It is important for the city to own this property in the future as its intended future use is to support transportation activities, including electric vehicle charging stations,” she said.

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