SHIRLEY — As he drives by U.S. Fish and Wildlife property along Front Street, longtime Water Commissioner Richard Hatch said he’s struck by the extent of the government’s holdings and how that land could benefit the area.
It’s “frustrating” to see all that real estate bankrolled when it could be put to better use, he said.
“Fish and Wildlife takes up a lot of good land,” he said. “It would make a beautiful spot for a commuter train station.” Hatch outlined a plan for a train station at the March 31 Board of Selectmen meeting. He’d previously presented the plan to Mohammed Khan, who directs the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) in Fitchburg.
The locale would work for Ayer, Shirley and Devens, he said. It might include a road from Devens, he added, as depicted in the former disposition plan known as Scenario 2B.
Although Hatch had maps and other documentation, his presentation wasn’t as showy as a PowerPoint presentation made a few months ago by another Shirley resident, John Oelfke.
But he’d done his homework. He sketched the lay of the land, which he said might be ideal for a multi-level parking garage with a commercial component on the ground floor. He also noted a past study that cited fluctuating commuter numbers. For example, in 1989, 38 riders took the train from Shirley. In December 2006, the number was 223. As of January 2008, he said there were 191.
Hatch said if the project he’s proposing got a green light, it would take at least three or four years to get it done.
But it must start with a study and MART will only look into the idea if the selectmen back the concept, he said.
“They’ll do a study if the board says it’s willing to change the location of the train station,” he said. But Selectmen Chairman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio said he’s leery of going that far.
Ayer’s parking garage plan hasn’t cleared, he pointed out. There are some — including business owners — who would be upset with the suggestion that the Shirley train stop on Main Street would close if a regional station was established nearby.
That proviso “only stands to reason” if the goal is to run a faster train and cut the time it takes to get from one end of the line to the other, said Hatch. He acknowledged the idea of moving the town’s train station could stir up controversy, but said some might be “glad to see it gone.”
Guercio asked John Oelfke how Hatch’s plan squares with his. “It’s not my plan, it’s yours,” said Oelfke.
Citing the MART study the board agreed to ask for months ago, he said an alternative site would simply be another location to look into. There would be a hurdle, though, if the plan segued from the study to the proposal stage, said Hatch.
Fish and Wildlife owns the land and “that could be an obstacle,” he said.