Conservation Commissions Looks Favorably on Rail Trail Funding

The Conservation Commission told the Londonderry Trailways it may commit $100,000 to help complete Phase Three of the Londonderry Rail Trail.

The 1.4 mile stretch connecting Liberty Drive to Seasons Lane, which runs past a peat bog, would make conservation land along the trail accessible to all residents, representatives of Londonderry Trailways said at a Jan. 6 public hearing before the Conservation Commission on the funding request.

“The trail is completely accessible to handicapped people,” said Trailways Chairman Bob Rimol, noting that its paved surface also encourages use by seniors and families with strollers.

“As the population ages, not everyone wants to drive far to do things,” said Pollyann Winslow, a spokesperson for Londonderry Trailways. “On the Rail Trail, you feel safe, you can enjoy beautiful scenery you can’t access from the roadways, and you run into your neighbors. I think it has a positive effect on the community.”

Rimol estimates the project will cost about $400,000 and told the Commission his group has two citizen warrant petitions ready to submit by Jan. 13, one for $280,000 and the other for $380,000, depending on whether the Commission approves the $100,000 contribution.

“We’d like to keep the expense to residents down as much as possible,” Winslow said.

Commissioner Mike Speltz said that in consulting with Town Attorney Mike Ramsdell regarding the legality of supporting the project, he learned the Town may invest funds in the trail corridor because of its agreement with the State to use that land.

“The Conservation Commission is not a party to the agreement, but can be a party to a contract with Continental Paving, or whatever company is used to complete the construction,” he said. “Our funds, if we approve, would be going directly into contract with a paving contractor, and that has been vetted by the town attorney.”

The land use change tax can be used for any purpose within the Commission charter under state statutes – primarily, preserving open space.

“We’re trying to preserve a unique feature of the Town. We’re saying, let’s give more access to open space,” he said.

Ann Chiampa, a member of the Planning Board, asked if the Commission is moving away from using funds for more natural trails in the Town’s wooded areas, and if the Commission would be amendable to contributing funds to develop handicapped accessible trails in areas such as the Town Forest.

Commissioners said they would consider that.

Speltz noted the Commission would only be dedicating a small fraction of the money available in the fund to support a trail that would expand access to open space and conservation areas in town.

About $1.5 million is available in the Commission’s fund and land use change tax is coming in soon, according to Chairman Deborah Lievens.

“We’re only contributing around 25 percent of the entire project,” Vice Chairman Eugene Harrington said.

Rimol noted the importance of raising the money as soon as possible to complete work as construction moves north on Interstate 93 and plans for Woodmont Commons ramp up. Pillsbury Realty, the Woodmont Commons developer, owns part of the trail slated for Phase Four development. Construction services can often be contracted at a reduced cost when done in conjunction with another project.

“We want to be able to leverage the fact that we have the Rail Trail completed down to Seasons Lane and Derry has completed the trail to Hood Park. The State should pay for part of that trail to fill that gap,” he said. “We’re in constant dialogue with the Derry Rail Trail Alliance. We know what’s at stake. They’re at a stopping point and we need to get to ours.”

Although the Commission could not vote on the $100,000 commitment the night of the public hearing, Commissioners present for the meeting expressed their support for the project.

“Taking just a quick test of how things are going, I think in three weeks we will be voting to approve it,” Harrington said.

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