Resident at odds with Rail Trail committee

By Diane C. Beaudoin

Oct. 7, 2005

TOWNSEND -- Resident Joseph Shank called the Squannacook Rail Trail Feasibility Study Committee members to task at this week’s selectmen meeting, telling them, “Go home and do your homework.”

Shank has been extremely vocal during the effort of putting in a proposed Rail Trail, which would run behind his property, Harbor Auto Body, 98 Main Street. Shank, who said he has been a Townsend resident most of his life, accused the committee of “not telling us the truth.”

Committee Chairman Stephen Meehan asked the selectmen to request a draft lease from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), so the study could be continued. He said the only way to get a draft lease is through the municipality or a formal Freedom of Information Act request.

Shank approached the selectmen’s table and produced a copy of what he said was a draft lease he received via e-mail from the MBTA.

“I called them and had a lengthy conversation, and they told me you knew you could get this,” he said. “I say you are all playing games, so be above board with us.”

Shank also accused the committee with “only wanting to get more money from the town to keep the study going.”

“I say to the selectmen to say no to this and tell these people to go home and do their homework,” he shouted. “If you are going to come to us, then at least tell us the truth.

“I am not saying if I’m for a Trails to Rails [the correct terminology], or against a Trails for Rails,” he said. “I just want the information, and for you all to stop playing games.”

Townsend attorney John Barrett said, “Not all old-timers from Townsend are against a Rail Trail in town. This committee needs to proceed with the process, and the next step in the process is getting the draft lease, so they can get all the info. I don’t think this should be shot down as Mr. Shank wants it to be.”

Committee member Dr. Julius Melbin said the committee “is not about treating the people like mushrooms, feeding them manure and keeping them in the dark.”

“The proper lease from the MBTA would have to be reviewed as the leases have changed,” Melbin said. “It is a very straightforward approach. We are not playing any games, we are following what the MBTA told us is the procedure.”

Selectman Robert Plamondon reiterated his support for a Rail Trail.

“Ultimately, this should be a ballot referendum question to see what all the people in town want or don’t want,” he said. “No special interest groups should decide this matter.

“Getting a draft lease does not bind the town into any legal trappings,” he added. “It is just so the committee can continue with getting information.”

In the end, the selectmen voted to give the committee copies of the form Shank produced and gather the information they are looking for.

Chairman Daniel Murphy said the information on Shank’s form would be usable to the committee.

“There are things that they need to go over that are on the draft lease agreement, whether it comes from Shank or we call the MBTA ourselves,” he said. “We have lawyers in town that can look it over for the committee.”