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Ayer to pay for state land survey for parking-garage project

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AYER — Though it appears the state never did so when it took possession of land from the railroad to assemble the Rail Trail bike path parcels, on Tuesday night selectmen approved spending $6,350 to survey and separate out a two- acre parcel of the collective Rail Trail property where selectmen propose building a parking garage at the intersection of Park and Main streets.

And while town officials have labored under the assumption that the Rail Trail parking lot land had already been conveyed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to the town, the transfer has not yet occurred. That news came from Ayer’s Economic Development Director David Maher.

“Both the officials at MART(the Montachusett Area Regional Transit Authority)and our BOS (Board of Selectmen) are under the assumption that this transfer of property has already taken place,” Maher wrote to Thatiana Gibson, a project manager at the state Division of Capital Asset Management. “I assume this perception comes from the work that (former Town Administrator Shaun) Suhoski was doing with you and your office to make this happen before he left. Suhoski left in early April, but the can needs to be kicked forward now, Maher said.

And Ayer is footing the bill for a land survey of the 88,000- square-foot parcel in question. The work is to be performed by the lowest of three bidders on a state bid list, Northeast Survey Consultants of Easthampton.

From another arm of state government, the state Department of Transportation is looking for the survey work of the state Rail Trail land in order to satisfy the preliminary requirements for the release of state funds towards the proposed jointly funded state and federal $11 million commuter rail parking garage downtown.

Payment for the survey will come from a $13,000 sum left unspent in the Economic Development office at the close of the fiscal year last week. “We definitely need to have this done,” Maher said. “We need to secure title to that property… The assessor doesn’t have the Rail Trail meets and bounds on his map.”

“It was good enough to the state then,” said Selectman Frank Maxant of taking ownership of railroad land without a survey. “Now they say we have to spend town money to have this done. Does that make sense?”

“It doesn’t but a survey wasn’t done,” repeated Maher. “The state did not require one at the time but the state requires one (now) for whomever they’re conveying title to.”

“They can transfer it to themselves without a survey,” said Maxant. “They’re changing the rules. I don’t like it.”

“Right, wrong or indifferent, we need to get this done,” said Selectman Jim Fay. “I don’t like it but we’ve got to do it.”

Maxant warned his peers that he’d be voting against the town-borne expense. “The whole thing seems totally wrong to me.”

The spending passed on a 2-1 vote, with Fay and Selectman Carolyn McCreary voting to approve the spending and Maxant voting against the measure. Selectman Gary Luca continued to abstain from deliberations over the matter and recused himself from the vote because of a familial relationship with a Park Street landowner whose property could be purchased if the town eventually assembles land parcels for the Rail Trail garage project.

Selectman Chairman Rick Gilles was absent for the meeting.