Conservation Votes to Commit $100,000 to Rail Trail Phase 3

The Conservation Commission voted unanimously in favor of committing $100,000 of the Town’s land use change tax toward construction costs to complete Phase Three of the Rail Trail.

The funding is contingent upon the Londonderry Trailways obtaining the balance of the money needed to complete the project, which Trailways Chairman Bob Rimol estimates will cost $400,000, and expenditure of the funds by Aug. 1, 2016.

“I think it’s fair and reasonable to put the time condition on it,” Commission Chairman Deb Lievens said, noting a future commission could amend the allocation if it was strongly opposed to the expenditure.

Although the Town doesn’t own the property Phase Three of the Rail Trail will cut through, 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 and offer access to open space and views of conservation easements.

It’s the opinion of Town Attorney Mike Ramsdell that because the Town has an agreement with the State to develop the Rail Trail, the Town has an interest in land in the Rail Trail corridor and therefore can invest town money in it, Commissioner Mike Speltz said during a Jan. 6 public hearing on the Trailways’ request. The Conservation Commission is not a party to the agreement, but can be a party to a contract with the company used to complete construction.

“Our funds, if we approve, would be going directly into a contract with a paving contractor, and that has been vetted by the town attorney,” Speltz said.

The land use change tax can be used for any purpose the Commission has within its charter under state statutes, which includes fostering public use of and access to open space and conservation easements.

Speltz noted the Commission would be dedicating only a small fraction of the approximately $1.5 million available in the fund to support a trail that would expand access to open space and conservation areas in town.

Rimol told the Commission it’s important Trailways raises funds to complete the project as soon as possible, with construction on Interstate 93 moving north toward Londonderry and plans for the Woodmont Commons development moving forward. 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 at the public hearing. “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.”

The Trailways had intended to submit a citizen’s petition to include on the March 10 ballot a warrant article to raise and appropriate the rest of the funds for construction of Phase Three of the Rail Trail. But the petition was filed after the State’s Jan. 19 deadline.

With the Conservation Commission’s allocation, the Trailways must raise approximately $280,000.

Trailways volunteer Pollyann Winslow said the committee will continue to work to support the Rail Trail and the group hopes to see the people and businesses who want to see it extended continue to support it.

The newest portion of the Rail Trail, which runs east from the Exit 5 Park and Ride to Liberty Drive, is to be paved and open in the spring.

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