TOWNSEND -- Selectmen voted 2-1 this week to sign a letter to the state Department of Commission and Recreation in support of the nonprofit organization Squannacook Greenways building the Squannacook River Rail Trail from Townsend to Groton.
The letter commits the town to building a 900-foot sidewalk along Route 119 and Townsend Harbor and providing reactive response from public safety in the event of an emergency. The cost of the trail is to be covered entirely by the Squannacook Greenways.
Steve Meehan, member of the Board of Directors of the committee, said the group has already allocated $10,000 through donations from the Board of Directors. The DCR has agreed to back the project, contingent on a few requests: that the Greenways get environmental insurance, that they name the DCR as co-insured, and that they secure the letter of support from the Board of Selectmen.
The vote came after a public forum attended by several dozen town residents, divided amongst supporters and abutters. Supporters of the rail trail expressed a desire for additional recreational opportunities in the town and the potential the rail trail would have to produce revenue.
"I think anything we can do to enhance the (recreational) activities is only going to draw more people into the town and businessmen are going to be thrilled," said resident Bill Cadogan.
Deanna Recchia said the trail would provide a manner to locally address the country's obesity epidemic.
"It would be a wonderful way to ... give access for children and adults to incorporate fitness back in their lives as well," she said.
Abutters, on the other hand, voiced several concerns, most of them over safety and crime management. Elaine Martin said she felt it would invite more drug trafficking because "it's a wonderful place for kids to hide out."
Both Police Chief Irving Marshall and Fire Chief Donald Klein were consulted on issues of safety. Both said Meehan had answered their questions about access to the trail to their satisfaction. Marshall's biggest concern, he said, was parking. He said Meehan had indicated there would be a 40 parking-space area above Railroad Street and access to parking in Groton. "I'm not in favor of the trail, I'm not opposed to the trail, I'm just concerned with the public-safety aspect of it and my accessibility to the trail," said Marshall.
Abutter John Beaulieu voiced concerns over unforeseen costs to the town.
"You cannot convince me at this time -- you never will -- that at one time or another there won't be a cost to the town of Townsend," he said.
Selectman Robert Plamondon was not in favor of signing the letter, voicing his desire to respect the abutters. Selectmen Nick Thalheimer and Sue Lisio voted in support of signing the letter, but said they would not support providing any town funds for completion the project, aside from an engineering study, money for which has already been appropriated.
"If anybody comes looking for money, the answer is no. I'll never support spending a dime in town money, the engineering study aside," said Thalheimer.