Londonderry Trailways asked the Conservation Commission to help fund Phase Three of the Rail Trail with a $100,000 contribution from the land use change tax.
The funds would be escrowed in an account the Town could use to pay contractors completing the construction, Sandra Lagueux, vice president of the Londonderry Trailways, told the Commission in a Nov. 25 presentation.
Lagueux noted the Town of Windham’s Conservation Commission made an $80,000 contribution to their Rail Trail.
“We’ve been told we couldn’t contribute because the Trailways is a private organization, but what I’m hearing is in Windham and Londonderry, the private organization isn’t buying anything. The Town of Londonderry would be buying paving services,” Commissioner Mike Speltz said. “So, then the question just becomes, can we spend land use change tax on land the town doesn’t own or doesn’t have an easement with? Can we use money to help improve someone else’s property?”
Speltz said in the case of Phase Three Rail Trail improvements, the money would be used to improve state property.
“The Town attorney told us we can’t do that because we don’t have a vested interest in that land, but maybe we do,” he said.
The 1.4 mile stretch connecting Liberty Drive to Seasons Lane, which will lead patrons past a peat bog, runs through conservation land.
“It really fits with the types of things that are important to you as a commission,” Lagueux said. “It provides green access to a different population than say, the Musquash. The trail is handicapped accessible and accessible to the elderly and ageing who aren’t comfortable walking in the woods where they could trip and fall, as well as young families with strollers. It’s a linear park available for everyone.”
“The issue that remains, and I don’t know how to get around it, is can we put town money into land that we don’t own or control,” Speltz said.
Lagueux noted the Town raised funds through a warrant article to fund Phase One of the Rail Trail, a one-mile stretch she said is heavily used.
Speltz said someone needs to have the Town Manager speak with the Town Attorney about looking at the Trailways agreement with the state to determine if it offers sufficient interest for the Commission to invest in the land. And if not, someone should find out how Windham’s Conservation Commission was able to fund that town’s Rail Trail.
Lagueux said the Trailways are additionally looking into submitting a citizen’s petition by Jan.1 for funding Phase Three, which is estimated to cost a total of $385,000 to complete.
Rail Trail Chair Bob Rimol said they haven’t been able to obtain grant money to help subsidize the project.
Phase Two of the Rail Trail, which runs from the Exit 5 Park and Ride to the intersection of Liberty and Independence drives and will hopefully be complete by the end of the year, is fully funded by business donations, individual donations, a New Hampshire Recreation Trails Program Grant, and discounted services from vendors.
“We’re always looking for different avenues to get funding,” he said, noting the Trailways will be paying for Phase Three through fundraising.
“We know how to eat the elephant one bite at a time,” Lagueux said. “We’re very good at building this out one portion at a time, and executing.”
Rimol said Phase Three of the Rail Trail “lines up in every way” with Windham’s project.
“It sounds like the legal advice was missing some details,” Chairman Deborah Lievens said.
Speltz proposed if possible, and approved in a public meeting, that 20 percent of the 40 percent land use change tax set aside for land improvements go toward the Rail Trail.
Lievens noted the Commission would have to look into how much funding is available in its account to fund the project at the level the Trailways are requesting.