State lease is least, not last, hurdle for Bay Colony Rail Trail

By Chau Ngoc Mai, c.mai@wickedlocal.com

The story is run on The Medfield Press issued on July 19, 2012.

The story is run on The Medfield Press issued on July 19, 2012.

MEDFIELD — The head of the Medfield Bay Colony Rail Trail Committee called the state’s authorization of a long-term lease of unused railroad tracks to towns interested in converting them into a recreational path “more of a formality,” and said it doesn’t mean the project is picking up steam.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority Board of Directors authorized 99-year leases with Medfield, Dover, Needham and Newton for portions of the abandoned railroad right-of-way, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

Christian Donner, a leader of the group that has been promoting the Bay Colony Rail Trail for several years and the chairman of the town committee studying the issue, responded unenthusiastically to the news.

“At least, in theory, one less obstacle is in the way,” he said. “But it will still take the towns a year or maybe two to get to the point where it becomes a reality.

“In Medfield, this will be a matter of another town vote in 2013,” he said.

Donner said the town would not be ready to sign the lease until at least next year.

“There are certain things that need to happen before the town is ready to go ahead and sign a lease,” he said. “And those things need to run their course.”

First, Donner said, the committee will have to continue researching central aspects of the rail trail and then make recommendations to the town. These include everything from surface finish, traffic, maintenance, insurance and access to selecting a contractor and estimating the cost of construction.

The study report should be finished by next spring, Donner said.

Second, the town needs to address the environmental liability that the MBTA is assigning onto the town that is part of the lease.

“When Medfield signs the lease with MBTA, we will accept liability for any type of harmful substances that may be buried in or around the corridor.”

Donner said the town is also required to indemnify the MBTA against any risk or liability should someone get hurt along the trail because of, say, asbestos. If an injured party decides to sue, the town will be solely liable.

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“Unless the town has the liability and insurance policy in place, they cannot sign the lease, because they will be exposed to that risk,” he said.

“But whether the town will sign the lease or not will need to be voted on by the town of Medfield at the Town Meeting in May 2013,” Donner said. “We think that the Town Meeting for next year will be critical because there will be some money that needs to be appropriated for this policy.”

The 9.1-mile Bay Colony Rail Trail project aims to convert the unused railroad between Needham and Medfield into a multi-use greenway.

The trail comprises two portions: seven miles between Medfield and Needham, and over two miles in Newton.

The Medfield portion is 1.5 miles long, running from the Dover line to Ice House Road, near the Kingsbury Club and the Medfield Senior Center.

Donner, who is also a member of the Rail Trail Association Board, said the association, which includes Medfield, Newton, Needham and Dover, plans to raise funds to cover “anything that will come up and will not be covered by the proceeds from salvaging the metal from the track.”

The board plans to hire a company to remove the rails and then sell them on the salvage market.

“The last number we heard was a mile worth of track will bring out $60,000,” Donner said. “We have a seven-mile trail, so we expect about $400,000 to $450,000. Then that will be available to cover the cost of construction.”

While the leases with the MBTA are at no cost to the local communities, the MBTA reserves the right to enter into licenses or leases with utility and telecommunication companies to generate non-fare revenue.

The leases also contain a reversion clause that allows the MBTA to take back the property at no cost if the demand for rail increases.

Donner, who has chaired the Medfield Bay Colony Rail Trail Study Committee since its creation, announced he will be stepping down from that post next week.

Chloe Gotsis contributed to this report. Contact Medfield Press correspondent Mai Ngoc Chau at cmai@wickedlocal.com; follow this story on Twitter @MedfieldPress and on Facebook.com/Medfield.Press

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Click here to read the original story on The Medfield Press

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