SHIRLEY — Water Commissioner Richard Hatch’s vision of a new regional train station includes a slice of the Oxbow Wildlife Refuge — but that idea doesn’t sit well with its owner, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Hatch’s plan targets land off Front Street that was once within town boundaries and later part of Fort Devens. Now it belongs Fish and Wildlife and is part of the Oxbow and Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
But refuge complex manager Elizabeth Herland nixed the idea in an April 15 letter to selectmen Chairman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio.
“I request that you withdraw your support for inclusion of this site in the (Montachusett Regional Transit Authority) MART study,” she wrote. “Developing this site as a train station is not an appropriate use of the refuge.”
And, she said, it clashes with federal law.
When Hatch presented the proposal at a selectmen’s meeting a few weeks ago, he acknowledged the land belongs to Oxbow but said that hurdle might come later. At the time, he said he only wanted the board to forward his proposal to MART for inclusion in its review process. MART is currently mapping plans to improve the area’s commuter-rail service to Boston.
The board’s concern then was that Shirley’s train station might be closed if the proposal was adopted.
But Hatch said it’s not necessary to go that far.
He’s the selectmen’s representative to MART, but he said he came up with this plan on his own. Though he needed the board’s support to include it in the review process, he said it wasn’t an endorsement, per sé. And it didn’t mean they supported closing the Shirley station, he said.
After some discussion, the board agreed to send the plan to MART.
Herland said MART hasn’t contacted her agency. She said she got her information from newspaper articles.
“It appears his proposal would study the feasibility of locating this facility on federally-owned land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge,” her letter reads.
She made it clear that’s not acceptable.
The agency will block any study aimed at siting a train station on Oxbow land, the letter states. Permission to access the refuge “will not be granted,” it says.
But at the May 5 Board of Selectmen meeting, Hatch said the study can be done anyway.
“We have contour maps” and clear boundaries, he said. “There’s no need to go on the land.”