Selectmen table rail trail talks

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By Emily Royalty, Correspondent
Posted: 08/17/2012 07:32:37 AM EDT

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TOWNSEND -- Selectmen tabled discussions about the Squannacook River Rail Trail, pending input from Chief of Police Erving Marshall.

The Tuesday night decision followed a presentation by Steve Meehan of Squannacook Greenways, the nonprofit organization in charge of the project. The organization requested that the board write a letter to the town asking for a sidewalk to be built on Main Street in the area of Townsend Harbor and to provide regular police patrol for the trail -- two things the state Department of Conservation and Recreation is looking for from a partner in the project.

According the Meehan, upon receiving the letter of commitment, the DCR is prepared to sign the lease with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the rail's owners, accepting liability for environmental problems that might result from the trail.

For their part, the Squannacook Greenways would be responsible for funding, constructing and maintaining the trail, buying environmental insurance, naming the DCR as co-insured and receiving the letters of commitment from Townsend and Groton.

"(The current plan) would address two primary concerns the board has addressed in the past -- environmental liability ... and no town money would be spent on design and construction of the trail," said Meehan.

According to Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan, at annual Town Meeting in 2006, $100,000 was appropriated to build a sidewalk from the North Middlesex High School to the town center; the amount was not enough to cover the price of the full-length sidewalk but could potentially be enough to pay for a smaller sidewalk in the area being requested by the Squannacook Greenways.
Selectmen Sue Lisio said she is "full of support" for the project moving forward.

However, there was concern over whether the Police Department had the means to provide the patrol being requested to the rail trail.

"I'd like to hear from (Marshall) ... how much extra is this going to cost us?" asked Selectman Nick Thalheimer.

Additional concerns were expressed by resident abutters of the project, ranging from questions about crime to sanitation.

"I don't know that you mind people walking in your backyard or having them so far in the woods you don't know if there's a rape or a murder back there ... (but) those are our homes right there," said abutter Sheila Murphy. "It's opening the backside to crime not visible from street."

Lisio said such events were unlikely.

"I know lots of communities that have successfully put in rail trails and there are not rapes, murders and muggings...Something like a rail trail helps bring in the kind of people we want to bring in to our communities," she said. "I have a hard time understanding why no one was upset years ago when trains went through their backyards. ... I'd be much more concerned about a train than a family on their bicycles."

Murphy requested that abutters be allowed to discuss their concerns in an open forum.

"I'm asking before you write a letter ... that you would allow people most impacted to at least express an opinion about this," she said.

Meehan said although there is no firm abutter-outreach plan, the nonprofit group intends to get citizen involvement and address their concerns.

"The board has my personal commitment we would do that," he said.

Meanwhile, Sheehan said he would speak to Marshall regarding the police involvement.

Discussion on the topic will resume at the next Board of Selectmen meeting on Aug. 28. The meeting will be held in an alternate room to accommodate the scheduled override election.


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