Rail Trail Committee gets busy, thanks to town funds
By Pierre Comtois
Article Launched: 11/09/2007 08:34:40 AM EST

GROTON -- Wasting little time after receiving Community Preservation funding, members of the Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee met to review bids from firms seeking a contract to provide engineering services for a proposed trail from West Groton into Townsend.

The committee starting looking for companies to help them draw up an engineering study for the proposed trail, along the bed of the former Greenville Line, well before this week's Special Town Meeting. The search began after the Board of Selectmen first voted to approve an RFP (Request For Proposals) for the project.

Approaching the Board of Selectmen in July, committee Chairman Bruce Easom asked for selectmens' support and sponsorship in creating a Rail Trail.

Much of the impetus for the project originated in Townsend, with efforts there going back many years. If completed, the trail would extend only 0.9 miles through West Groton before continuing for another 10 miles in Townsend.

A member of the Conservation Commission as well as the town's Trails Committee, Easom has been involved in one way or another with efforts to preserve the town's natural resources. When he appeared before selectmen in July to ask for their support for the Rail Trail project, his action came as no surprise.

At that time, Easom told selectmen that he would gladly serve as coordinator in applying for town CPA (Community Preservation Act) funding, if they would officially act as sponsor. If the application was approved, the newly-formed Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee would receive and administer the money in soliciting and paying for an engineering study of the town's portion of the Rail Trail.

Easom told the board at the time that because of the need for inter-town and inter-agency coordination, it would be more helpful if the Board of Selectmen were to sponsor the application than a single individual.

Selectmen agreed, then approved the formulation of an RFP that would encompass an environmental and engineering assessment study. Intended to help planners estimate the final cost of completing the proposed rail trail, the study would include civil, environmental, structural and wetlands engineering details, and an overview of applicable state regulations.

Also included in the RFP would be the engineering applicants' overall experience with similar projects, their readiness to take on the project within a certain time frame, and references.

As formulation of the RFP proceeded, the Board of Selectmen applied for CPA funding and passed muster with the Community Preservation Committee, allowing the request for $10,000 to move on to the floor of Special Town Meeting. There, the measure passed easily, with little discussion.

On the Townsend side, residents there approved an appropriation of $20,000 for the project.

In anticipation of town meeting approval, committee members had already begun solicitation for RFPs. By Tuesday evening -- one day after town meeting -- proposals were received from Burlington-based Fay, Spofford & Thorndike and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., of Watertown.

Meeting last Tuesday night with their counterparts from Townsend, members of the committee compared different points included in their two proposals, such as presentation skills, experience and how soon the company could get to work. The qualities were ranked on a scale of "advantageous, very advantageous and highly advantageous."

Outstanding questions remained, however, and the committee decided to hold off on making a final decision on which company to choose until references could be checked.

With funding for the RFP granted, approval for the project is needed from Mass Highway and the Montachusett Regional Planning agency. Assuming all approvals are granted, Easom has guessed that a best-case scenario would have actual work beginning on the trail no sooner than 2010.

Note from Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee: There are two small errors in this article. The Townsend section as now proposed is only 2.4 miles, not 10 miles. Also, the $20,000 for the Townsend section of the styudy is being paid for by a DCR grant, and was not funded by the Town of Townsend.