Board approves letter of support for Rail Trail
By Diane C. Beaudoin, Staff Writer

TOWNSEND -- The Board of Selectmen voted to ask the MBTA for a draft lease for 2.5 miles of railway that could be turned into the Squannacook River Rail Trail, provided the town receives an indemnity agreement or clause to protect the town.

Members of the Rail Trail Feasibility Study Committee requested the board also give them a letter of support so they can begin looking into avenues of grant money to make the trail happen. Selectmen voted to give them such a letter, with conditions attached.

Proponents of the trail filled the meeting chambers to voice their concerns, along with opponents. Most of them are abutters to the tracks.

Joseph Shank said he was the spokesman for the proponents, even though he began his speech by saying he was neither for nor against the Rail Trail.

”I will begin saying one of you (meaning a selectman) spoke to someone at the MBTA, and were told the town would not be indemnified if the trail goes in,” Shank said. “This is causing a lot of friction between people in town. Chief of Police Erving Marshall said I can speak for him. He said he was very concerned his name was used in the feasibility study, that he was in favor of this. He is not in favor of it until they can prove what they plan on doing about parking.”

Selectman David Chenelle immediately asked Shank if he was sure it was all right to speak on behalf of the Chief, as Marshall was not in attendance at the meeting.

”That’s what he told me I could say,” Shank replied.

John Beaulieu, who resides at 110 Main Street and abuts the rail line, spoke in opposition to having the trail in his back yard.

Elaine Martin, 74 Main Street, said the trail is “a feel-good thing. It doesn’t go anywhere; it doesn’t connect to anything.”

Finance Committee Chairman Donald Klein said the FinCom would be discussing the matter at their next meeting.

”I am speaking for myself as chairman, not for the committee,” Klein said. “We don’t care one way or another, but we have some financial concerns. The up-front thing is getting the grants.”

He said the federal government would put up 80 percent of the funding, and the state would put up the other 20 percent.

”If the state or feds pull out, would the town still be liable for that money?” Klein asked. “If they find contaminates in the soil, and the MBTA said no soil tests will be done until the lease is signed, are we liable to clean it up? These are some concerns.”

Shirley Murphy, 170 Main Street, said there are trails in nearby towns, and anyone who wants to use them can easily drive to a trail to walk on.

Jeffrey Lynch, 144 Main Street, is also against the town putting in the Rail Trail, and would be happy to leave well enough alone.

”I walk this area every day with my dog. It’s absolutely beautiful and no one ever uses it now,” Lynch said. “I came here to get away from the city, and paving this trail makes it like the city. It would be a shock to my system to rip this apart and pave it.”

Steven Meehan, chairman of Rail Trail Feasibility Study Committee, said asking for a draft lease and a letter of support does not commit the town to go forward with the project.

”This non-binding question on the May 10 ballot gave us 1,021 for and 259 against asking for a draft lease,” Meehan said. “This will not bind the town in any manner, shape or form. It only allows us to get an engineering study done and start looking for more grant money.”

Selectman Maureen Denig said she has been a proponent of the trail, and was in contact with Mark Boyle from the MBTA.

”The lease will initiate dialogue,” Denig said. “I would also write a letter of support. It is a great concept. There will have to be conditions first, but I would support it.”

Selectman Chenelle said he would also support getting a draft lease, provided there would be an indemnity clause to protect the town.

”I won’t go forward unless someone, either the feds, the state, or the MBTA, indemnifies us,” Chenelle argued. “All this does is get us more information to make an informed decision.”

Chairman Robert Plamondon also agreed the town should ask for the lease, as it does not put the town in the position of having to construct the trail. Plamondon then asked about the letter of support for the committee.

”To me, over 1,000 people put an ‘X’ in the privacy of the ballot box, and that says something,” Plamondon said. “We have to go forward. It’s what the people want.”

Gary Shepherd asked the board if they “would want somebody looking in their windows if this trail goes in? These 1,000 people won’t have the trail running through their back yards.”

Shank, who stood up every time a proponent spoke, asked the board to hold off on a letter of support until they have the lease in hand.

Chenelle disagreed with Shank.

”I say give them the letter now so they can start looking at grant money and getting some work done,” Chenelle said.

The board voted unanimously to give the letter of support to the committee.