Rails take another step towards becoming trails
By Caitlyn Kelleher Journal Staff Writer

The Rails to Trails committee members are working to take the next step in the project, now that residents have given their approval.

The committee, which has been working for years, is now in a waiting game with the state and gearing up for a fundraising process. The committee needs to raise the money for a formal feasibility study, said William Rideout.

"The next thing we need is to get an engineering and feasibility study done," Rideout said. "We're going to do it through a combination of applying for grants and private donations."

As part of the special election on May 10 residents voted 1,021 to 259 on a non-bidding referendum to continue with the proposed rail trail.

The proposed Squannacook River Rail Trail will run from the Harbor Village area to the center of town - a total of 2.4 miles.

The feasibility study is estimated to cost $25,000, Rideout said. He said it would review and plan for any conservation issues, road crossing, technical concerns of abutters as well as the layout of the trail.

This proposed trail would run from Townsend Harbor to Depot Street in the center of Townsend.

Rideout said these next steps are going to take time to complete.

"Within the next year and that maybe optimistic," he said.

The group is also going to work on getting a lease with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), which owns the land the trail states on. The MBTA has offered the town a $1 a-year-lease for the next 85 years for the land, Rideout said.

Rideout said another part of the project, which is still pending is a proposed bill in the state Legislature that would allow the town to buy insurance against any existing environmental concerns.

The group planning the trail expects all construction costs for the trail to be covered through the nationwide grant program, in which the federal government covers 80 percent of design and construction costs, and 20 percent needs to be matched by the state.

Congressman John Olver has earmarked approximately $4 million for four NorthCentral Massachusetts rail trails including this proposed project.

The development of the rail trail will not require local funding.

Maintenance costs would be a town responsibility, but are estimated to be between $1,400 and $4,800 a year, Rideout said. The costs can be offset by private grants and/or local fund-raising as well as by an "Adopt a section of the rail trail" program, which is already in the works, according to the group's members.

Caitlyn Kelleher can be reached at (978) 827-3386, ext. 15, or e-mail: caitlynkelleher@ aol.com