Funds for rail trail design approved

Oct 3, 2019 by

Published October 2, 2019


LYNNFIELD — Make it three for three.

The Sept. 26 Special Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved allocating $348,000 for the Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail’s final design by a 585-380 vote. The rail trail previously passed the 2017 April Town Meeting by a 342-341 vote. The rail trail passed 1,859 to 1,679 during the April Town Election.

Locksley Road resident Patrick Curley, a member of the Friends of the Lynnfield Rail Trail leadership team, told the Special Town Meeting that WorldTech Engineering has determined the rail trail’s final design will cost $695,000 and the town’s share is $348,000.

“The Massachusetts Department of Transportation advises that a town make a financial investment in the final design,” said Curley. “It evidences a town’s readiness and the MassDOT is looking for evidence of readiness when they schedule the construction date. We need to show them we are financially invested in this project.”

THE SPECIAL TOWN MEETING voted to allocate $348,000 for the Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail’s final design by a 585-380 vote on Sept. 26. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

Curley said the $348,000 would be appropriated from the town’s Overlay Surplus Account and would have no negative effect on the town’s fiscal year 2020 operating and capital budgets. He noted the Friends were able to secure a $100,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation last year, which would reduce the final design’s cost to $248,000. He said the grant will expire in December 2020.

“It’s a reimbursement-style grant,” said Curley. “If we don’t spend the money, we won’t get the reimbursement. This is likely the sole state money we will see for the final design.”

After speaking with MassDOT officials and representatives from state Sen. Brendan Crighton and state Sen. Jason Lewis’ respective offices, Curley expressed doubts that a $500,000 final design earmark included in the 2018 Environmental Bond Bill will materialize.

“Even if we got the maximum earmark, it would have to be split,” said Curley. “Lynnfield would get $250,000, which is not enough to cover our $348,000 share of the final design costs. There is very little chance Lynnfield will get a single dollar from this earmark.”

Curley also aired concerns the final design cost will increase if the project gets delayed once again.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment,” said Curley. “For $348,000, we get an asset that will serve generations of Lynnfielders. Delay means another generation loses out on our rail trail.”

Opponents air concerns

Merservey Lane resident Stephen Sorrentino, whose home abuts the proposed rail trail, spoke on behalf of the Citizens of Lynnfield Against the Rail Trail. He urged the Special Town Meeting to vote no on the warrant article.

Sorrentino expressed concerns about the state of the town’s operating and capital budgets. He said new growth in town is decreasing and expressed concerns that an override is looming in the next couple of years. He also noted a number of FY20 capital budget requests were not funded this year.

“Let’s ask the fire chief, the police chief, the superintendent of schools and the director of public works what they would do with $348,000,” said Sorrentino.

Sorrentino argued that the rail trail will not be a town asset.

“Lynnfield will not own the rail trail,” said Sorrentino. “It’s a leased parcel of land that would be owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We would be responsible for future maintenance and repair costs for the trail. This $348,000 is not a town financial investment. It will not return any money and it will not save any costs to Lynnfield taxpayers. This is essentially a sunk cost.”

Westover Drive resident Jim Gerace, who is a rail trail abutter, criticized the Friends for requesting the Special Town Meeting instead of waiting until October Town Meeting.

“It’s part of their playbook and this obsession with winning,” said Gerace. “It’s not right to take money away from schools, police, fire and roads to fund this.”

Gerace was also critical of the fact that the rail trail appropriation request was a majority vote instead of a two-thirds vote.

“The proponents were able to circumvent that important safeguard in our Charter by getting a mere 200 people to sign a petition,” Gerace claimed.

Most boards back request

After Sorrentino and Gerace concluded their presentation, local officials weighed in on the requested rail trail appropriation.

In response to a question from Town Moderator Joe Markey, Town Counsel Tom Mullen said, “The appropriation of funds that does not involve borrowing would be a majority vote.”

“It’s only a two-thirds vote if we need to bond the expenditure,” said Mullen.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford noted he and Selectman Dick Dalton both voted not to recommend the warrant article. Selectman Chris Barrett recused himself from the vote because his sister lives in close proximity to the rail trail.

“The Board of Selectmen looks at this strictly as a financial issue,” said Crawford. “We were one of the last requests that got put into the bond bill, so there was very little chance we would get funding in the first year. We will know in May 2020 whether or not we get funded in the second year. This is not about whether you want a rail trail or not. This is a chance for us to get funds from the state without using tax dollars to pay for the final design costs. We thought it would be much more prudent to wait until May to see if funding came through. It doesn’t jeopardize the grant we have. We are not against the rail trail. We want the project to move forward, but we think the more prudent thing to do is wait until May.”

The Finance Committee voted 8-2 to recommend the rail trail warrant article.

“It was not an unanimous vote, but those in favor (made their decision) based on a couple of different points,” said Finance Committee Chairman Chris Mattia. “First, in order to get to the 75 percent design, we need to pay up our half of the funds. The members of our committee who had conversations with state officials confirmed this. That along with the grant money and the fact we can fund this project from an account that can be used for one-time capital expenditures with no overall impact to the operating budget was the basis for our decision.”

The Planning Board unanimously voted to recommend the warrant article.

“Appropriating money for the rail trail is consistent with the town’s Master Plan and shows the town’s readiness to proceed to the Legislature, MassDOT and the broader commonwealth,” said Planning Board Chairman Brian Charville. “It is fiscally prudent. Who among us wouldn’t spend $3.48 to get $103 back?”

Recreational Path Committee Chairman Gerard Noumi reiterated his committee’s support for having the rail trail proceed to the final design.

A brief debate

After locals finished making recommendations on the warrant article, three residents weighed in on the proposed expenditure.

Finance Committee member Kevin Sullivan expressed his support for the warrant article.

“I am a supporter of the rail trail and I have been since my wife and I moved to Lynnfield almost 23 years ago,” said Sullivan. “I spoke at length with Michael Trepanier at MassDOT. He said it’s extremely unlikely the town will receive bond money and the best course of action is to approve funding to complete the design work.”

Patrice Lane resident Pat Campbell opposed allocating funds for the rail trail’s final design.

“This doesn’t determine whether the rail trail is going forward or not,” said Campbell. “We don’t need to raid $348,000 from the Overlay Reserve. We just began this budget only three months ago. We may have some real emergencies. This doesn’t rise to the level of an emergency.”

Former Selectman Mark McDonough, 167 Bourque Rd., said he has supported bringing a rail trail to town for over 20 years. He took issue with the project’s opponents repeatedly criticizing it.

“The anti people keep saying this is going to connect rail trails that go all the way up to Maine and down to Florida,” said McDonough. “It can’t. On the north end, there is a thing called Route 1. Nobody is going to build a bridge over Route 1. On the south end, there is an active rail line. No one is going to put a rail trail on an active rail line.”

Merrow Road resident Allison Mackey, who was holding a baby in the middle school gym, moved the question. The Special Town Meeting voted 878-82 to proceed to a vote on the warrant article.

Afterwards, the Special Town Meeting voted 585-380 to appropriate the $348,000 for the rail trail’s final design.

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