In this Associated Press file photo, the Amtrak Downeaster travels through Saco. The Kennebunk Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday to pull the plug on plans for an Amtrak Downeaster station that would have brought passenger rail service to downtown Kennebunk. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

The Board of Selectmen voted this month to pull the plug on plans for an Amtrak Downeaster station that would have brought passenger rail service to downtown Kennebunk.

Four years after voters approved $300,000 for a seasonal train stop in town, the board voted unanimously to officially halt the plans that appeared to be close to coming to fruition just a few weeks ago.

Board Chairman Dick Morin read a statement from the board saying, “As we narrowed the conversation regarding the details of the project with regard to things such as renting versus owning and space availability for parking and restrooms, it became more apparent that this location, with its significant limitations presented a situation that would make us losers if it won, meaning if it was successful, and losers if the project failed at that location.”

Town Manager Mike Pardue said that the property at 12 Depot St. — the old train depot owned by Tim Dietz — ultimately did not meet the needs for a train stop from the purview of the Maine Department of Transportation. Pardue said he met last week with representatives from the Maine DOT, and they felt the site was deficient in size and had concern over investing $1.1 million, including $800,000 of state funds, in a site that was very constricted.

In 2014 town voters approved $300,000 to develop a seasonal train stop, with an additional $800,000 available in grant form from the state if the station is completed by December of 2019. The project was rejuvenated over a year ago, with support from several residents and the Economic Development Committee, but has hit roadblocks in the search for a suitable site along the rail tracks.

A proposal to put the train stop on the other side of Summer Street at the former granary, owned by David Gould, met with resistance from neighbors who lived on nearby Plummer Lane. Morin and Selectman Ed Karytko have opposed the train station from the beginning, saying that it will cost the town for construction and maintenance, without providing a significant benefit.

Selectman Blake Baldwin, who as former chair of the Economic Development Committee, worked to bring the idea of a train station to Kennebunk before voters five years ago, was disappointed that the project could not be brought to fruition.

“As one of the original participants in 2013 I’ve been disappointed and frustrated in our inability to get this project to fruition. And yet at this date I’m prepared to waive the white flag of surrender. Not because I want to, but because we as a community are spending scarce resources in the form of staff time and taxpayer dollars to pursue a project that just doesn’t seem to want to come to fruition,” he said.

Baldwin said he thinks train service is important to put a community at a competitive advantage, and to improve public transportation options to reduce the impact on climate change.

Clearly frustrated, Baldwin said, “As for this project, I think tonight we are singing the death knell. Unfortunately that means we are losing $800,000 that would offset the ability to create that infrastructure, but I don’t think any of us, in good conscious, can see trying to move this any further down the line.”

Pardue said the town has spent roughly $100,000 of the $300,000 appropriated for the train stop to date. A letter sent to Pardue just before the meeting from the Maine DOT noted that they are willing to share that cost to a maximum of $50,000.

Pardue said DOT officials have also offered to discuss ways to help bring public transportation to the town. He said within the next month they have agreed to meet with the EDC to discuss establishing a seasonal express shuttle service from the Wells train station directly to downtown Kennebunk with a loop to Lower Village.

They have also agreed to hold a dedicated public listening session regarding transit needs for the elderly, disabled and low income community members. Pardue said he expressed the need in Kennebunk for senior citizens to be able to get around if they can no longer drive themselves to medical appointments and other places.

A hint that the project was again in peril surfaced in late August when the board was expected to sign a lease with Dietz at its Aug. 24 meeting, and came out of executive session without a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a lease agreement.

Dietz said following the meeting in August that he wasn’t sure what the delay was, but that he and his wife, Kathy, wanted to support the town, and were supportive of the train station initiative from the start.

“Negotiations have not gone the way we want and we don’t want to tie the community into a bad deal. And that’s really where we are today,” Selectman Chris Cluff said. “We want to make sure we are being fiscally responsible with the town’s money and the state’s as well.”

Resident Sharon Staz told the board she was disappointed in the board’s decision

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that you came to this conclusion. I hope you mean what you say when you say you are going to focus on regional transportation for this community. They are big steps that can’t continue to be put off, and put off, and put off. We are too late already in solving many of the earth’s problems,” Staz told the board.

Finance Director Joel Downs said the net balance of funds approved to be used for the train station, with the reimbursement from Maine DOT, would be roughly $250,000. The board voted unanimously to permanently halt the project in order to free those funds for a future use.

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