Swampscott rail trail leads to the polls

May 31, 2017

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is a map of the proposed rail trail.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Voters will head to the polls later this month to decide whether to allocate funds that would allow plans for a proposed rail trail to move forward.

At Town Meeting, by a 210-56 vote, members approved allocating $850,000 for the design and engineering of the trail location within the National Grid corridor, as well as the legal fees and costs for acquisition of easement rights.

But a group of residents against the trail, including abutters, who have been vocal in their opposition, fought the vote, and spearheaded a citizen’s petition that garnered enough signatures to force a town-wide special election.

The Board of Selectmen have set the special election date for Thursday, June 29, where voters will be presented with the same question voted on and approved at Town Meeting last month.

The citizen’s petition garnered nearly 900 certified signatures, or more than 5 percent of the registered voters needed to challenge a Town Meeting vote, as required by the town charter.

The town charter (Section 2-6) reads that votes, except a vote to adjourn or authorize the borrowing or money in receipt of taxes for the current year, passed at Town Meeting, don’t go into effect for five days, and can be challenged within that timeframe by filing a petition with the Board of Selectmen, asking that the question be submitted to the town’s voters.

Officials have said $240,000 of the funds would be used to hire professionals for design and engineering costs. About $610,000 would be for acquisition of easement rights, where the town would work with the property owners (National Grid and/or other parties) to secure the rights. This may be done through eminent domain or by donation/gift of the land.

The funds would not be for construction of the trail, which would be financed through donations, grants and private funds, officials said.

Officials have said National Grid pays property taxes for the 11 parcels that make up the utility corridor, but doesn’t have clear title on all of them. Through a title process, numerous owners have been identified, which could include abutters.

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The two-plus mile, 10-foot wide trail would run from the Swampscott Train Station to the Marblehead line at Seaview Avenue, connecting with the Marblehead rail trail, which also links to trails in Salem.

Paul Dwyer, a Swampscott resident who lives along the proposed trail, has said the group decided to start the petition drive after losing the Town Meeting vote. He said previously that people have a problem with eminent domain, which is the wrong thing to do your neighbors, and that with so many financial needs in town, the trail is a luxury and a want more than anything else. He has said the town doesn’t need it and can’t afford it.

Other opposition to the trail has included safety and privacy concerns from neighbors. Residents in support of the trail have spoken about how it would provide free exercise and a way for people to get out in nature.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said previously that she thinks Town Meeting is a good representation of the rest of the town, and that she was confident the town-wide vote would be consistent with the Town Meeting vote.

Town Clerk Susan Duplin said an election usually costs the town between $10,000 to $12,000 for things such as ballot printing, poll workers and supplies.

Duplin said ballot questions typically draw a large turnout. For the November 2014 state election, the town had a new school question on the ballot, and a turnout of 67 percent. For the January 2010 special town election, where voters were presented with a question for a new police station, there was a 62 percent turnout.

“Prior history shows questions on the ballot definitely get the voters out,” Duplin said. “With that said, I’m predicting at least a 60 percent voter turnout for the June 29 special election, but (it) could be even more.”

Absentee ballots will be available at least three weeks before the election, no later than June 8. In order to qualify for an absentee ballot, the voter must be unable to vote at the polls on Election Day, because of absence from the voter’s town during normal polling hours, physical disability preventing them from going to the polling place, or religious belief. A family member may also apply for an absentee ballot for the voter, Duplin said.

Voter registration deadline is no later than 8 p.m. on Friday, June 9, and the town clerk’s office will be open for that deadline. Voters will also be able to come in and vote absentee. Early voting only applies to state elections, Duplin said.

Polls will be open during the election at three locations: Precincts 1 & 2 at Swampscott Senior Center, 200 Rear Essex St.; Precincts 3 & 4 at First Church Congregational, 40 Monument Ave.; and Precincts 5 & 6 at Swampscott Middle School, 207 Forest Ave.

Voter registration can be done online, an application can be downloaded, or voting status can be checked at the secretary of state’s website at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleidx.htm.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.