Pictured is a map of the proposed rail trail.
BY GAYLA CAWLEY
SWAMPSCOTT — Town officials can move forward with plans for a rail trail after voters approved allocating funds by nearly 600 ballots on Thursday during a special election.
Voters decided 2,741 to 2,152 to allocate $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.
Voter turnout was 46 percent.
The results upheld a 210-56 Town Meeting vote last month in favor of allocating the funds. A group of residents opposed to the trail fought that vote and garnered enough signatures on a citizen’s petition to force a special election.
The two-plus mile 10-foot wide trail will run from Swampscott Train Station to the Marblehead line at Seaview Avenue, connecting with the Marblehead Rail Trail, which also links to trails in Salem.
The proposed trail has divided residents, with contentious meetings held by various boards before and after Town Meeting.
Opponents, including many abutters to the path, have been angry with the possibility of land taken by eminent domain, and with the cost, saying the trail is a luxury, and the funds could be better used elsewhere in town, often citing deteriorating schools.
Proponents have argued that the trail will increase the quality of life in town, creating a broader sense of community, and will provide free exercise and a way for people to get out in nature.
“I’m very happy that plans for a rail trail will move forward,” said Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. “Now, it’s time to heal the rift in our town. The Board of Selectmen and town administration are committed to meeting with each abutting neighbor to discuss and negotiate trail design in the months and years to come.”
Kimberly Nassar, chairwoman of the “Vote No on the June 29th ballot committee” released a statement after results came in, vowing to keep fighting.
“The Vote No on the June 29th committee would like to thank all those who supported our efforts to establish fairness and fiscal sanity in our town,” the committee statement read. “The committee has always looked at this vote as only a first step. We were hoping that a second step wouldn’t be necessary, but the voters have said otherwise, and we accept the will of the voters on this question.
“We will now continue the legal steps needed to demonstrate what we have stated all along: that the abutters own much of the land along the proposed rail trail and for the town to acquire that land by eminent domain will require millions of dollars in taxpayer monies. This has been a contentious campaign that has divided the town and we on the no committee ask that all residents make a renewed commitment to civil discourse as we take the next step in this project.”
Officials have said that $240,000 of the funds will be used to hire professionals for design and engineering costs. About $610,000 will 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.
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.
The funds will not be for construction of the trail, which will be financed through donations, grants and private funds, officials said.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.