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In surprise move, property owner sets up fence around commuter rail

As it stood on Monday, the fence on Phil Berry’s property directed commuter rail riders to go around the edges of his land by the gas station. By Tuesday, this portion of the fence had been removed, allowing commuters to cut directly across his property once more.

UPDATE–A portion of the fence erected near the commuter rail station has been removed, allowing for more direct access over Phil Berry’s property to the train station.

“In the next 30 days, the MBTA and the property owner, in consultation with the town, will work to identify a mutually acceptable solution,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo on Tuesday. He added that it’s important for commuter rail riders to have a safe, accessible path of travel.

It appears to be a temporary solution to the dispute that arose on Monday, when commuter rail passengers faced a fence blocking their usual path to the train station. Berry, who owns the lot next to the station, erected a fence along the lines of his property in a surprise move on Sunday.

The fence, which runs along the track and makes a right angle along Archer’s Mobil, redirected people to walk around the lot behind Carlin’s Tavern and by the gas station in order to get on the commuter rail platform. By Tuesday, the portion of it directly in front of the tracks had been removed, allowing passengers more direct access to the station without having to walk along the tracks.

Bruno Fisher, deputy administrator for the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, said the MBTA, MART and the town have been working with Berry on establishing safe access to the station for about a year. The town received $3.2 million in October for the expansion of the Rail Trail parking lot, but Fisher said one stipulation requires clear access to the station.

The dispute, Fisher said, is really between the MBTA and Berry, as the MBTA has the easement allowing commuters to walk across Berry’s property.

“I gather it’s his contention that he owns the property,” Fisher said. “He’s going to apparently try to dictate the pathway that he wants to have used out there for the commuter rail patrons that use that specific station.”

Officials from MBTA and MART met with Berry on Tuesday afternoon regarding the issue, according to a town-wide public advisory sent through email on Tuesday. The MBTA required Berry to remove the portion of the fence “to allow safe, direct public access to and from the train platform,” the advisory states.

Pesaturo said in an email on Monday that Berry told the MBTA he has been trying to work with the town and MART since last year.

The town did not receive any official notification, according to a public advisory sent to Nashoba Publishing by Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand on Monday.

“This appears to be a property dispute between Mr. Phil Berry and the MBTA,” the statement reads. “The town of Ayer does not own any of the property in dispute.”

But Pesaturo clarified that there is no property dispute between the MBTA and Berry.

“The MBTA will work with the town of Ayer, the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority and the property owner to identify and implement a resolution,” Pesaturo said in an email on Monday.

Pesaturo said the MBTA inherited the Boston & Maine railroad right-of-way decades ago, including “deeded rights” that allow the public to walk over the property to get to the train. Commuters can typically access the train by walking across the lot Berry owns behind Carlin’s Tavern, but the newly constructed fence forced passengers to walk on the outskirts of his property along the gas station.

The town is in consultation with the MBTA and the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority over the matter, according to the statement from Pontbriand, but it has no legal jurisdiction over Berry’s property, or the platform and property owned by the MBTA.

“The town of Ayer will respond to public safety/health emergencies at the train station platform only,” the statement reads.

When reached by phone on Sunday, Berry offered no comment and hung up.

Fisher said MART does not have a preference on station access, but is leaving it up to the wishes of the MBTA and the Federal Transit Administration, which approved the grant.

But some parcels along Park Street must be sold before the project comes to fruition, Nashoba Publishing reported in October. Berry also owns property on Park Street.

MART officials will provide an update on the commuter surface parking lot project at the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Follow Amelia on Twitter and Tout @AmeliaPakHarvey.

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