New state law gives boost to Squannacook Rail Trail
Nashoba Publishing

TOWNSEND -- The Massachusetts Legislature recently passed a bill making environmental liability insurance available to towns wanting to develop their own Rail Trails. Governor Romney's line-item veto of the bill was unanimously overridden.

The issue of environmental liability has been a concern for the Squannacook River Rail Trail in Townsend. The proposed trail would run 2.4 miles from the Townsend-Groton line to Depot Street, on MBTA land. Previously, when the MBTA leased land to a town for a rails-to-trail conversion, it required that the town hold the MBTA harmless for any pre-existing environmental contamination. In addition, the MBTA would not allow testing to take place before the lease was signed. Both the Board of Selectmen and the Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee agreed that the Townsend project would be a financial risk if the town could not be protected against environmental liability.

Under the new law, the state will make available $500,000 each year in matching grants to towns to help them purchase environmental liability insurance for the development and/or maintenance of a Rail Trail. The insurance would cover both the town and the MBTA.

Insurance policies will have coverage limits of at least $3 million per incident, and a maximum deductible of $50,000 per incident. According to the legislation, any town that purchases this insurance would exclude from their lease the language holding the MBTA harmless for environmental contamination. Should the town decide to go ahead with the proposed project, the Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee said they would raise the funds privately to purchase this insurance.

"This was a critical step for our project, but there is still a lot of hard work ahead, including raising funds for a professional feasibility study," said Steve Meehan, chairman of the Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee. "Everyone's involvement is encouraged and welcome. The more townsfolk who contribute their ideas and energy to this project, the greater the likelihood that the result will be a trail that serves all of our recreational needs, is a good neighbor to abutters, and is a source of Townsend pride for many years to come."