The railroad trestle over Cobbossee Stream on Thursday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

GARDINER — With about 15 years of planning and waiting invested in the Cobbosee Trail in Gardiner, city officials are asking the Maine Department of Transportation for more time.

They are hoping to secure additional funds from private sources over the next six months or so to pay for extending a trail along Cobbosseecontee Stream, west from the city’s downtown, with the help of a task force.

“We’d like to ask the DOT to have a little faith in us,” Mayor Patricia Hart said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Since August, the City Council has been meeting with Patrick Adams, regional transportation planner with the state Department of Transportation, on the fate of the Cobbossee Trail.

While the first phase of the trail construction is being done in conjunction with the bridge reconstruction project now underway and is expected to bring the trail under the Bridge Street bridge to the intersection of Water and Bridge streets, the fate of the second phase has been up in the air.

“The complex discussion came with we talked about the continuation of Phase 2 from that corner up along Water Street, right on Winter Street and left on Summer Street, crossing the rail trestle and beyond,” City Manager Christine Landes said.

The trail is part of a longstanding plan to develop what Gardiner officials call the Cobbossee Corridor, which runs from the New Mills Dam to the Kennebec River. It envisioned commercial, residential and mixed-use development, and recreational options in that area.

Two specific projects — building a trail along the stream and redeveloping the Summer Street area — have also been long-range goals spelled out in a 1999 downtown revitalization plan the city adopted.

“As you know,” Landes said, “this project has been in the works for over a decade, and the state is pretty anxious to see some work progress on this.”

If city officials aren’t interested in taking on the next phase, Landes said, the federal funds set aside for the project would have to be returned. But she and Hart asked whether the decision could be delayed six months to allow a committee or a task force to identify possible outside funding sources or request funds from the city, which will be developing its next budget in the spring.

While she said Adams could not make that decision, city officials could forward a written request and letters of support to the state for consideration.

Some of that support is likely to come from Upstream. The nonprofit organization has been working on restoring fish passage on Cobbosseecontee Stream, which has been blocked by dams for more than 200 years. Those dams harnessed water power to operate the mills built along the stream banks fueling Gardiner’s industrial economy.

Tina Wood, a member of Upstream, said part of putting fish passage in the stream with grant funds is the opportunity to add amenities.

“This is part of what we’re working on, and this is a part of Cobbossee Corridor,” she said.

The railroad trestle over Cobbossee Stream on Thursday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

State Sen. Shenna Bellows and state Rep. Thom Harnett, who both represent Gardiner, both offered their support for the delay.

“If it’s at all possible for the state to extend the deadline to May 2021, it seems eminently reasonable particularly given that what you’re hearing is a unified community response and an eagerness to put in place pragmatic plans and recognizing the potential return on investments to keep this money in Gardiner,” Bellows said.

Harnett, who served as Gardiner’s mayor for six years, said the Cobbossee is the history of the city.

“Now we have an opportunity to turn our rivers back into rivers and present opportunities for people to celebrate the beauty that is the Cobbossee Corridor,” he said.

Noting the time that has passed since the City Council first endorsed the project, Harnett said government sometimes does not spin as quickly or as efficiently as officials might like.

Adams, who has been involved in the bridge replacement project for about six years, has also been a supporter of developing the trail to the unused railroad trestle.

“If we were to build one segment, that would be the one to give the biggest bang for the buck,” he said. “People would come to Gardiner to experience it. It would be a draw for local communities and farther away.”

What the Department of Transportation needs is some understanding of how the project will move forward from here, Adams said. He was not comfortable with seeing the project sit stagnant until May. But if design work were to continue in the meantime, he can make a case to move forward.

“If you’re asking for eight months of no activity, it’s a much harder sell for me,” Adams said.

A task force to be named is expected to take up that work and bring recommendations to the City Council.

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