Tensions rose at Wednesday night’s Upper Charles Trail Committee meeting, as some residents asked that work on the current feasibility study for Segments 5 and 6 of the campus loop trail connector be stopped and the allocated funds be returned to the state.
Resident Amy Groves noted that at the previous night’s Select Board meeting, three individuals spoke during the public forum and requested a stop work order on the preliminary study. She attended the UCTC meeting to add her objections to what has been a contentious debate over the past several months over the proposed route, which would cross busy Hayden Rowe Street (Route 85) multiple times.
Segments 5 and 6 of the campus trail connector would start at the end of the Center Trail on Loop Road, cross over Hayden Rowe Street and run behind Marathon School and across land where the schools have expressed interest in constructing a new elementary school.
“Given the circumstances, overwhelming concern has been expressed by the School Committee and the public consistently and clearly over a long period of time,” Groves said.
While there would be an element of embarrassment in returning the state funds that were awarded in a MassTrails grant, Groves said, her bigger issue was that the UCTC applied for the funds in the first place despite community objections. She told committee members that she believed that, from now on, any UCTC requests for state funding should go before the Select Board and the town manager for review.
“I would like to see oversight,” Groves stressed. “When this committee goes and speaks for the town requesting money, I want to make sure that the whole town is behind this.”
She also asked that survey data collected at a UCTC meeting during the spring be published “because it is of the public interest.”
Select Board Member Irfan Nasrullah, who is the board’s UCTC designee, acknowledged that three people spoke in favor of halting the study during the open meeting portion of the Select Board meeting.
“They were asking that we not expend the funds for Segment 6 until we were fully aware of what the route was going to be and investigate alternative routes,” he clarified, noting that there were concerns about spending engineering money on Section 5 as well.
“I was just curious,” UCTC chair Jane Moran said. “Out of 20,000 people, three people showed up.”
She noted that the MassTrails grant already has been allocated for the study of Sections 5 and 6. Five percent of the work has been completed on the Section 5 study.
“I’m not sure that the Select Board wants to interfere with town boards and committees,” Moran continued. She recommended seeking a legal opinion.
The process the committee has followed in the past, she explained, is to apply for state money, which will fund 75 percent of a trail project. The remainder is requested from the Community Preservation Committee and voted on at Town Meeting.
Nasrullah added that the Select Board has neither discussed this nor decided on taking any action at this time. He said the Select Board originally directed the UCTC to explore trail options, so it is waiting for that information.
Moran said the committee has voiced that it can’t provide information to the Select Board without this preliminary study being completed. It will provide information on wetlands, neighborhood feedback and the viability of the route, she said.
Matt Chase, an engineer from VHB, said that there is no commitment to go forward with the study’s recommendations. But the process needs to be done to see what is feasible.
“We have to do something for the next level, and using the funding is that opportunity,” he said.
Member Scott Knous said there seemed to “be a disconnect” because both state and town funds are being used “on a segment that overwhelmingly was objected to.” He also pointed to some confusing language in the agenda that said, “Finish segment 5 — final design, construction.”
Moran said that people are getting “bogged down” on this segment, but the committee “did its due diligence.”
Select Board member Muriel Kramer, speaking as a private citizen, said that the western trail option that was previously discussed “should get the same kind of preliminary engineering work,” considering that both state and town funds are being used.
“We have not ruled that out at all,” Moran said.
Town engineer Dave Daltorio noted that the purpose of the engineering study is to bring a plan back to the committee for review as a springboard for further discussion.
Peter LaGoy, chair of the Trail Coordination and Management Committee and proponent of the western option, spoke as a private citizen and as someone who has constructed trails in town. He said, “It is not rocket science to do this” if there are qualified people in Hopkinton rather than paying professional engineers.
Chuck Dauchy, a retired wetlands consultant and director of the Hopkinton Area Land Trust, said that the money should be applied to sections of the trail “where there is very likely common agreement.” Moran countered that the money was specifically designated for Segments 5 and 6.
She also said that the trails that LaGoy created were on largely level land, not like the topography being reviewed for these two segments. These segments are also being looked at from a lens of being universally accessible, whereas she said some town trails are too rugged for people who use wheelchairs or have disabilities.
“We have a tougher job,” Moran said, noting that the segments must meet state and federal guidelines in order to be eligible for further funding.
Dauchy told Moran that HALT is “well aware of accessibility standards in terms of grade.”