Is the Swampscott rail trail worth it?

June 6, 2017

COURTESY PHOTO
A map of the proposed Swampscott rail trail.

YES: Alexis Runstadler, pro-trail abutter and co-chair of Yes for Swampscott Campaign

Love Swampscott — Vote Yes for the Rail Trail.

Courtesy photo

Runstadler

The Swampscott Rail Trail is about community. It is about a 2-mile linear park throughout our town for every neighborhood, every resident.  After 30 years of discussion and debate, now is the time to move this project forward.

Last month, Swampscott Town Meeting overwhelming approved (by a vote of 210 to 56) ($850,000 in) funding for the Rail Trail to move forward with design and engineering of the trail and acquisition of easement rights.  

The Rail Trail is unanimously sponsored by the Selectmen and endorsed by the Finance Committee, Capital Improvement Committee, School Committee, Planning Board, Open Space Committee and Conservation Commission.  However, as is too familiar in Swampscott, a small group of abutters to the National Grid utility corridor want to prevent progress by overturning Town Meeting’s overwhelming vote for the Rail Trail.

A recent letter from these abutters to voters included a lot of inaccurate information. Here are the facts:

The Rail Trail will be solely within the existing National Grid utility corridor, which only National Grid maintains and pays taxes on.

Title examinations on the corridor confirm ownership by National Grid, the Town, and Tedesco Country Club.

No abutter along the corridor has established any ownership to the utility corridor.  The abutters’ own attorney has stated that abutters have completed no title examinations to support a claim of ownership.

The Town is working with National Grid to secure recreational easements using eminent domain – a common way for towns to acquire easements as it cures potential title defects.

Many Massachusetts communities have used eminent domain to create rail trails.

Only property within the utility corridor will be impacted.  No homes will be impacted.

Multiple appraisals establish the value for the recreational easement at not more than $430,000.

Over $175,000 in private donations have already been secured for construction of the trail.  As in other towns, state funding will also be secured to construct the trail.

A lot of good things are happening in Swampscott right now.  Let’s keep it going.  Swampscott deserves the Rail Trail.  Please vote ‘yes’ on Thursday, June 29.


NO: Charles Patsios, Swampscott Town Meeting member and developer

Courtesy photo

Patsios

He wants the rail trail, but not without knowing what the costs are to the town and what the impacts are to other residents.

No other community in Massachusetts has created a trail like this using eminent domain — (it is) a human rights violation to take property against the will of a homeowner for something that is not a great public need. All others have been able to do the hard work of building community consensus.

Approximately 90 abutters have title to the land.

The $850,000 is just a down payment. The full cost to make this project happen will be north of $4 million.

The average price of a home in Swampscott is almost $500,000. To take land from a home will require that the town pay at least 10 percent of the value of the home. This is compensating the homeowner for the diminished value of their own land, as well as paying them for the actual property. Ten percent is a low estimate. It is the estimate used in class action suits that always result in lower payments than to individuals who fight the taking by themselves. Using 10 percent, that means each homeowner will need to be paid $50,000. With 90 homeowners, that is $4.5 million. Add $850,000 and you are north of $5 million — it will increase taxes and is better used elsewhere.

Our elementary schools are falling apart: At some time, we will need a new school. Swampscott taxes are some of the highest in the state. Taxpayers are not going to keep paying and paying. We need to prioritize and we should not prioritize a trail over a school.

This project is being pushed through by the Board of Selectmen using the same tactics they used on the Machon School, the Greenwood Avenue debacle, and the failed elementary school: marginalize and demonize those that oppose it; tell the public it won’t cost that much (but never discuss the full costs); bring the issue to Town Meeting, but not the town at large; and rig the debate at Town Meeting so that proponents have as much time as they need to make their case.