Published in the December 30, 2015 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — Local opponents to the Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail proposal came en masse to the Dec. 21 Lynnfield Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
The standing room only crowd filled the Al Merritt Cultural and Media Center at MarketStreet during an update on the progress of the project presented to the board by the engineering firm, landscape architect and members of the town’s Recreation Path Committee.
WorldTech Engineering President Richard Benevento and Vice President Bill Mertz, landscape architect Randy Collins, along with Recreation Path Committee Chairman Janet Long and board member Dick Simmons, answered their questions as best as they could, but each emphasized that they would be better prepared to address residents’ concerns at the next public forum slated to specifically to gather citizen input.
This public information forum will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 12 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Lynnfield Middle School. A similar public input forum will also be held in Wakefield in mid-January, but the time, date and place were not known at press time.
The basic overview of the 4.4 mile project presented by the engineers was essentially the same as had been presented to the Wakefield Board of Selectmen, which is recapped in the story entitled “Rail Trail project on track,” by Mark Sardella published in today’s Villager.
Lynnfield will decide its role
The residents present were most concerned that Lynnfield had somehow given up its rights regarding decisions about the trail, because Wakefield is listed as the “lead agency” in the documents. All three selectmen as well as the engineers assured them that the townspeople have control over this project.
“Believe me, the town of Wakefield is not going to make any decisions for the town of Lynnfield. We make our own decisions here, and the decision here will be (made) by the citizens,” said Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford. This sentiment drew applause from the crowd.
Selectman Chris Barrett assured them that he and his fellow selectmen will make certain all residents will have their say on this project. “Lynnfield absolutely will have the final say at Town Meeting, most certainly. We’ve seen the residents show up to voice their concerns. A number of good questions have been asked and I think we have to make sure they’re answered,” Barrett said.
Dan Tammaro, 475 Lowell St., said while it sounds logical for residents to be asked to speak up at community meetings, “we don’t even like the idea of going to a community meeting about a project we want not to happen, so how do you go and hear from engineers trying to tell you how great it is when you’re not behind it?”
Crawford said, “Well, you have to tell them that.”
Tammaro said they are being told: “If you need information turn to the committee that is presenting this project forward. We’re saying, ‘You’re telling us to go to the proponents to gather information when there’s no one leading this thing from the town perspective besides a private resident.”
Crawford disagreed. “Your town administrator, Mr. Boudreau, is the man in charge. If you want to go to our town administrator’s office, and ask those questions, those answers will be given to you as they can be answered. We have hired him to be in charge of the town and he does a great job,” Crawford said.
“Wakefield is the lead agency, but really it is a two-town design,” Benevento explained. “In 2014, we started the design phase and we are now moving to complete the preliminary design. However, before the preliminary design is done we want to continue to have these community outreach meetings so we can get input from both communities. It is important to get that input so that we can tailor the project to the specific needs of the community.”
Simmons explained that early on Wakefield’s rail trail group was further along in the process and when it came time to apply for the grant it made more sense for them to take the lead. Benevento added that this decision was made because one community needed to take responsibility for the grant to disperse the funds for the work done.
Benevento explained that the work currently taking place is preliminary in nature and no bulldozers are ready to show up.
“The project was an idea several years ago, before we were involved,” Benevento said. “You have to do a certain amount of due diligence and that is what is going on right now, as opposed to making decisions on opinion. You have to at least get all the facts, so you can make an informed decision.”
A 99-year lease with the MBTA for use of the rail bed in town will be required. According Boudreau, in order for the town to enter into this agreement only a majority vote at Town Meeting would be required. Wakefield would need to make that decision on its own as well.
Boudreau told the Villager: “Under G.L. c. 40, s. 14, acquisition of an interest in land requires only a majority vote, but an appropriation to acquire that interest requires a two-thirds vote. The draft lease I have seen does not require the town to pay any rent, so no appropriation will be required. Therefore, it’s a majority vote.”
Invasion of privacy
Opponents were also concerned that building the rail trail was being treated as a forgone conclusion.
Jill and Salvatore Giugliano of Giugliano Terrace are 38-year residents whose property abuts the proposed rail trail and they are opposed to it. Jill Giugliano said the 60 abutters to this rail trail will have their privacy invaded forever.
“This is not about Wakefield. It’s not about Lexington. It’s not about any other town. This is about our town, Lynnfield,” Jill Giuliano said, adding, “We don’t think it’s good for Lynnfield and we think we should have a right to decide what’s good for Lynnfield.”
She added, “We came to Lynnfield for a reason. People move to Lynnfield because it is a quaint town, because of no congestion, because of low crime, because there has never been a crime on the rail to trail. We don’t want to change that, please understand. There are 60 or more homes that it is going to invade our privacy 24 hours a day.”
Sal Giugliano said he has grandchildren and he does not want strangers coming into his backyard. “People don’t want it. We have no rights? The last meeting we had we told them we didn’t want it. I have a backyard where the people go by. I have a pool. What am I suppose to do, offer them a beer when they go by? So it still goes forward like we weren’t even there. What kind of power do we have as citizens?” he said, adding, “I don’t want strangers from Wakefield and Peabody in my backyard, you understand that?”
Emergency, security concerns
Selectman Tom Terranova asked how emergency vehicles and personnel would get to a user on the trail in the event of an emergency, particularly in the boardwalk area that goes through 6/10ths of a mile of Reedy Meadow.
Benevento explained that the boardwalk would be designed using materials that could withstand the load and width of the typical box truck, which means an ambulance or a police cruiser could drive on it to reach the person. There would also be periodic pull out areas along the trail.
Terranova also wanted to know what security features would be incorporated into the design of the rail trail to protect both the abutters and the trail users. “From a policing standpoint, how are we going to protect people? How are we going to protect people’s homes. The fencing and shrubs may stop the visual attack, but that doesn’t stop someone from jumping the fence and invading someone’s home,” he said.
Benevento said, “There has been a lot of study with this. In Massachusetts, there are a number of trails that are hugely successful and actually quite safe. As part of this process, Janet (Long) and her committee and Dot Halpin and her committee (in Wakefield) have been talking to police departments, like Lexington, about crime and what happens on rail trails.”
“We’re engineers, we’re not crime people, but from our experience, before there were rail trails there’s no access for police to patrol or even know there are people out there, as opposed to having a trail that is being used by a lot of people (who) are not doing the wrong thing, but doing the right thing,” Benevento said.
Terranova responded, “I think there are some security features that you might need to consider implementing is the point I am making. People are concerned about people walking 400 yards in from Essex Street so there may be some lighting or some motion detectors required.”
“This is a project for Wakefield and Lynnfield. This is not our project. You have hired us to design the job and bring information to you,” Benevento said.
Points of access
Both the Middle School and the High School will serve as access points for the trail. Barrett wanted to bring attention to the potential for other public points of access along the trail, in addition to LHS and LMS, such as near conservation lands, that residents may not be aware exist.
“I think these are all very important decisions to make because certainly with our recreational fields, as we have expanded them, the need for parking as expanded on Essex Street. And if we are to add the rail trail there it’s another congested area for the town. These questions will be answered and I can assure you that I will do everything I can to make sure that Lynnfield will take the lead and have the final say.”
Town would maintain it
While the estimated $7.6M price tag to design and build the rail trail in both towns would be paid by the state and federal government grants, the perpetual maintenance of the trail would become the responsibility of each town it passes through. This was a concern of many in attendance. The plans are too preliminary at this stage to estimate the cost of that upkeep.
Long: “Project well-received”
Long emphasized how well-received these rail trail conversions have been throughout the country, with about 70 completed to date. To help residents visualize the rail trail proposal in Lynnfield, Long said her committee has brought people to walk the trail and she is willing to take anybody who asks out for a walk on the trail.
“What is exciting is we’re seeing paths that people are making already on the walkway. They’ve been using it to get school, the library, their homes, so it is already well-used. We’re trying to formalize that process, allowing people to walk on a better surface,” Long said.
Long added, “We visited the home of every abutter. We were actually warmly received. We took notes. We listened. We incorporated those comments into our website under frequently asked questions (FAQs).” She said the Realtors they’ve spoken to also provided a favorable response. “Realtors really get this.
The group has also visited other trails and spoken to leaders in other communities who have successfully created rail trail conversions. In addition, they have cleaned up sections of the existing Lynnfield trail. “Some kids had some parties behind our high school. Bud Lite still rules,” Long said, adding, “We know that those are areas that are currently secluded and allow people to do those kinds of things, but when the rail trail is built it will be pretty inhospitable for kids to be hanging out at the edge of the trail.”
The rail trail public forum on Jan. 12 will include video footage of other rail trails in use, she said. Long invited anyone who who wants to discuss the trail or arrange to walk it with a member of the committee to send her an email at info@LynnfieldRailTrail.org.
Crawford said, “We’re years away from an approval of the project.” He added that the work taking place currently is preliminary.
“We’re a long way away from final design and even presenting it to the government. That’s why we should all get educated as much as we can on the whole project and what it means. And we certainly want to hear everyone’s concerns. We know many of your concerns; others will pop up. We have our own concerns. These larger meetings and smaller group meetings in the neighborhoods are very helpful because a lot of people are more apt to speak up in a smaller setting,” Crawford said.
Long agreed, adding, “This is a multi-year, multi-step process and each step of the way people get to have input and shape the project or stop the project, so there’s opportunities for people to interact with this all along the way.”