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Southampton voters to decide proposed greenway’s fate at special Town Meeting

Southampton residents will vote on a measure that would lead to the purchase of a 4.25-mile stretch of unused railbed to create a recreational trail at a special Town Meeting Tuesday.

If the article passes with a two-thirds majority, it would allow the town to purchase the railbed for $340,000, but only if it receives a state grant that would reimburse two-thirds of the cost. The remaining $115,600 would come from Community Preservation Act funds, the article states.

Voters will also weigh in on four other articles seeking to transfer funds at the meeting, which takes place at 7 p.m. at the William E. Norris School at 34 Pomeroy Meadow Road. The Friends of the Southampton Greenway group will hold an informational meeting there at 6 p.m.

Supporters of the project to create a greenway, or recreational trail, say the trail would be a recreational and transportation asset to the town, but opponents said it will disrupt abutters ability to enjoy their land and could cost the town money down the road.

The stretch of railbed the town would purchase stretches from Coleman Road near the Easthampton line to near the intersection of Valley and Brickyard roads, but according to the Friends of the Southampton Greenway website, the town currently plans to develop the trail from Coleman Road to Route 10 near Sheldon’s Ice Cream.

The town completed a feasibility study in 2011 that proposed various designs for the path, ranging from a $900,000 gravel trail to a $2.6 million path that would include parallel paved and unpaved routes.

Earlier this year, Gov. Deval Patrick approved $500,000 for the creation of the rail trail as part of a $1.5 billion transportation bond bill, but it is unclear when that money will be available for the project, town officials said.

Another article on the Town Meeting agenda asks voters to OK $39,500 from CPA funds to cover the costs related to the land acquisition, such as legal fees and closing costs.

Even if voters approve the measure and the grant is awarded next month, the greenway is not a done deal.

Abutter Michael Sacco of Brickyard Road, an opponent of the project, said he thinks it is premature to ask voters to decide the matter Tuesday since the land has not technically been offered to the town for a price it could pay.

Residents voted down similar proposals to create a trail on the railbed twice in the 1990s, at the same time that voters in Easthampton approved the creation of the Manhan Rail Trail.

But Roberge said that the comments she has heard from residents have been overwhelmingly positive.

“People stop me on the street and want to know how it’s going and when the vote is,” she said. The negative comments she has heard mostly involve concerns about the cost of the trail, she added.

Other items

Voters at the meeting will also weigh in on whether to transfer $4,704.79 to the Tire Dump account to replace funds that were removed in fiscal year 2010. Select Board Chairman Michael Phelan said the funds “never should have been removed.” The withdrawal was noticed this spring when Christine Fowles, the executor of her late parents’ estate, requested accounting of the $153,000 the town received to clean up the 150,000 tires on the property.

Residents will also vote on CPA funds budget and a request to spend $35,000 to upgrade the Highway Department’s fuel tanks and $20,000 to finish the Master Planning process.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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