Park progressing after Paris strikes tentative agreement with utility providers

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PARIS — Progress to establish a new public park along the Little Androscoggin River took a major step forward after the town and wastewater treatment providers struck a tentative plan to create formal access to the land, though would not see it transfer hands. 

The deal struck between the Paris Utility District and selectmen Monday evening would grant the town access to the seven-acre parcel on 1 Pikes Hill through a conservation easement.

In the move, which is the first step in establishing a waterfront park to give residents access to the river for picnicking, launching kayaks and swimming, the PUD would retain ownership of the plot, which it purchased from the town four decades ago. The lease agreement is pending approval from regulators at the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The deal appears to have bridged several months of back-and-forth communication between the town and the PUD over an issue that proved to be a sticking point and held up negotiations: price.

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The topic was first publicly broached at a selectmen’s meeting in August after the two sides met and toured the site in a preliminary inquest into its future. Though the PUD operates a major pump station, which services downtown residential and Paris Hill users, it uses very little of the space. The shed encompassing the pump station occupies only a small portion of the site near Paris Hill Road, while an unused office building sits empty after the PUD transferred its headquarters to the wastewater treatment plant on CN Brown Road. The lot is dotted by several boarded-over wells, which once offered public drinking water. 

Town officials have publicly and privately insisted the PUD sell the lot for $1 and accept access through an easement, claiming the price was fair as it had sold the land in the 1960s for the same price.

However, at a board meeting last month, trustees said the offer failed to take into consideration $400,000 it absorbed by the PUD’s users upon purchase. Town Manager Amy Bernard later countered the town provided additional financial incentives which more than reimbursed the expense.  

The deal apparently would lease the town the rights to access a strip of land and space to establish a park, whose size and range of activities has not been set, in 20-year increments, according to Plant Manager Steven Arnold.

On Monday, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Raymond Lussier said the deal suited everyone. 

“We were going to do something one way or the other with them; a sale just wasn’t feasible,” Lussier said. 

Town officials did not specify why they backed off their request, though Lussier suggested the state regulators would not have approved the sale over concerns that a transfer would risk liability issues with accessing water mains below the surface. 

“It will give them access to property if they want picnic areas, boating, hiking or recreational uses. We’ll still be able to retain our assets on the property,” Arnold said.

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