Selectmen discuss trail into Townsend

Talk river basin aid

By Pierre Comtois

GROTON -- In advance of a public hearing later in the week, the Board of Selectmen was briefed on the proposed new Rail Trail extending from West Groton into neighboring Townsend.

According to Jennifer Shermowat, project engineer for Burlington-based Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FST), the path of the proposed Squannacook River Rail Trail contains "nothing out of the ordinary."

In a presentation to selectmen on Monday night, Shermowat described the conceptual design for the 0.9 mile stretch of proposed Rail Trail that runs through Groton.

Shermowat said the design plan calls for retaining trees and brush along the trail, to provide adequate screening for the backyards of property owners whose lots abut the path.

The only serious consideration is possible contamination along the former railroad bed that would have to be cleaned up if the project moves forward. Should that happen, Shermowat said, the town would enter a 99-year lease agreement with the MBTA, the owner of the rail line.

Connected to the Groton section, the Squannacook River Rail Trail would extend another 2.9 miles into neighboring Townsend.

Shermowat told board members that a public hearing on the project was scheduled for the following Thursday with an assessment on the level of support the project might have among the public as FST's next step.

Board members also heard from Mark Archambault of the Nashua River Watershed Association (NRWA) about a new initiative. The proposal would unite a number of communities in Massachusetts including Ashby, Lunenburg, Townsend, Pepperell and Groton, along with adjacent towns in New Hampshire, in a loose federation dedicated to protecting 130 square miles of the Squannacook and Nissitissit River basins needed for area drinking water.

The instrument by which the various towns would conduct themselves would be an intermunicipal/ interstate memorandum of understanding (MOU).

Raising awareness and promoting good stewardship of the land are prime concerns of the NRWA, Archambault said, explaining his group's interest in acting as the coordinating agency for the MOU.

Immediate plans called for briefing each town covered by the MOU, correlating feedback then integrating it into a draft MOU, to be made available for review by each of the towns.

Ultimately, a finished MOU would be presented to residents at town meetings for approval, then to both state legislatures for final endorsement.

Although friendly to the idea, selectmen expressed concern that the initiative might threaten private property rights and planned to have the town's legal counsel review the plan before deciding on giving it their support.

Selectmen planned to discuss the matter again at their next meeting.