Townsend voters endorse 2.5-mile rail-trail proposal
By Aaron Wasserman

TOWNSEND -- Voters overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal to create a 2.5-mile rail-trail in town at a special election Wednesday evening.

A referendum asking voters if they want the town to pursue the project passed by 1,021-to-259 margin, as nearly 80 percent of voters approved the idea.

Though the vote was non-binding, the project's biggest proponents said Wednesday's results demonstrate that residents are firmly behind the project.

"I think the people of Townsend have spoken," said Steve Meehan, chairman of the Squannacook River Rail-Trail Feasibility Committee, a private organization that has studied the project for the past three years. "There is public support for this project."

The group hopes to construct a trail that will run from the Harbor Village Shopping Center, near the Groton town line, west to Depot Street in the town center.

Following Wednesday's results, the town will start negotiating a lease agreement with the MBTA to lease the trails that would be converted.

The committee's members have said they plan to use some of the $4 million U.S. Rep. John W. Olver earmarked last July specifically for bike paths in North Central Massachusetts to pay for the project. But before they can access the federal money, the committee must pay $25,000 on its own for an engineering study.

Meehan said that grant-writing and fundraising for the study could begin as early as next week.

Property owners abutting the proposed rail-trail had vocally opposed the project in recent weeks, but clearly did not muster enough support to defeat the project.

Nonetheless, another committee member, Bill Rideout, said the committee still wants to work together with affected abutters.

"As a group we're committed to do this right -- to make sure it doesn't interfere with businesses in town and to take care of abutters' concerns," he said.

Also Wednesday evening, David R. Chenelle was elected to the Board of Selectmen. Chenelle, who was running opposed, will replace Peter H. Collins, who resigned from the board last winter. Chenelle received 1,050 votes.