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UCTC members express thoughts, disagreements regarding potential reconfiguration

by | Apr 11, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The mood at the nearly two-hour Upper Charles Trail Committee meeting Monday night was agitated as members debated the response the group will put forward at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting on May 1 to two citizens’ petitions that call for the group’s potential reformation as a Trails Coordination and Management Committee subcommittee.

Two citizens’ petitions were submitted for consideration for the warrant by Peter LaGoy, the chair of the TCMC. LaGoy previously has pushed for engineering funds to study a western trail route around Charlesview Estates. The petitions were signed by 23 other residents.

Chair Jane Moran opened debate of whether the committee should vote to support the two warrant articles. The first calls for the UCTC in its current form to be disbanded and reformed as a TCMC subcommittee, with members chosen by the TCMC. The second article calls for withholding further funding to explore the possibility of the proposed trail that crosses Hayden Rowe Street, commonly referred to as Section 7, the piece of the trail that would connect Hopkinton to the Milford trail head.

Moran noted that the UCTC is under the direction of the Select Board and was given “a clear charge” to engineer, design and construct a trail from Milford to Hopkinton. On the other hand, she said the TCMC’s mission does not include those mandates but serves to coordinate the town’s various trails groups and provide trail maintenance.

“I think I would shock the world if I said I was in favor of continuing to explore Hayden Rowe,” UCTC treasurer Scott Knous said of the second article. “It’s not appealing as a marathoner, exerciser, walker, young child — I don’t think it’s safe.”

As for the UCTC reforming as a TCMC subcommittee, Knous said he would wait for the vote by Town Meeting members and honor their decision.

Said Knous: “Personally, I don’t think we should be telling the public what they should do about our committee.”

Moran pointed out that the underlying message of that petition was whether the public wants the UCTC to be under the direction of the Select Board or moved under the TCMC’s umbrella.

When it was stressed that the TCMC members would choose the new UCTC members, member Cynthia Esthimer interjected with, “I think that’s dangerous.”

She added that the she didn’t want to see “the body of work” the committee has done be in vain, saying the petition is more about “the process,” which includes applying for grants.

“What I would much rather see is cooperation and coordination,” Esthimer continued. She said she would like the UCTC to continue in its current form but to have a TCMC liaison as a member, and vice versa.

Said Esthimer: “The two are not separate forevermore with the Berlin Wall.”

Member Eli Post said he was “opposed to both petitions” and will speak at Town Meeting about them.

Member Ken Parker said that the UCTC should focus more on the north side of town. While he said the UCTC “shouldn’t be subservient to the TCMC,” he did call out its lack of progress. He also noted that while the TCMC as a whole does not have expertise in designing trails, LaGoy does.

Comments were made that the Select Board historically has not provided much oversight or direction to the UCTC. Moran countered that the committee is asked to make annual presentations to the Select Board.

She added that while the TCMC is advocating for the proposed western alternative route, this option previously was considered by the UCTC and deemed to be unachievable due to wetlands delineation, property acquisition and neighbor opposition. She said the public may not be aware that the UCTC considered it first.

“Going down Hayden Rowe was never our first choice,” Moran explained. “Does that mean we cannot go back and revisit it? Absolutely not.”

Added Moran: “There is an awful lot of backstory here that folks are missing because there’s been so much mudslinging, and that really saddens me.”

She added that the Hayden Rowe segment consideration “was when the proverbial baloney hit the fan,” receiving harsh community criticism.

Moran also said she is “hoping beyond hope” that Town Meeting would approve the TCMC’s request via the Community Preservation Committee for money to assess the viability of a western trail route around Charlesview.

Knous questioned why the UCTC sought the TCMC’s counsel on the western alternative route.

“We did not ask them,” Moran countered, saying the UCTC supported the CPC initiative. “They volunteered.”

Alternate member Jamie Wronka pointed out that the Planning Board’s pedestrian connectivity survey indicated that the sidewalks along Route 85 are considered unsafe.

“I very much dislike that [Segment 7],” she said. “I think it’s unsafe. I think it’s irresponsible.”

Wronka said that the UCTC should serve an advisory role to whatever entity it is under. She likened its role to the current Elmwood School Building Committee providing insight to the School Committee.

Moran said that because the new school is going to be built on Hayden Rowe, discussion on a proposed trail there needs to be paused. She urged members to “take a step back.”

Member Eric Sonnett stressed that the UCTC was “the first trails committee in town” and that LaGoy attended several of its early meetings.

“On two different occasions, I begged him to join our committee, and he declined,” he said, adding that the TCMC was created in such a manner “that the two committees would never interact.”

Said Sonnett: “The only thing I am trying to say is don’t make a committee that has no establishment in charge of the committee that created it.”

Wronka said that statement was wrong, explaining that the TCMC was created in 2018 when the Hughes Trail was placed behind her home. She said the TCMC engaged in public outreach at that time. Esthimer noted that she was the resident who actually performed that outreach.

The board never reached consensus on how to approach the two articles. The UCTC will have a presentation at Town Meeting, and members can present their viewpoints as individuals. There seemed to be confusion at times among members as to which initiatives discussed were put forth as citizens’ petitions, by the TCMC or by the Trails Club.

Moran said she reached out to the town moderator for guidelines for the presentation but had not heard back. She was contacted by the Town Manager’s Office via email the previous week, as were all committee chairs, to have their documents submitted by April 10, the day of the UCTC meeting.

“I asked for an extension right away,” she said. “They said, ‘It’s really not recommended.’ ”

Moran said she finished a draft PowerPoint presentation Sunday evening, which the committee then debated.

After the UCTC meeting, LaGoy reached out to the Hopkinton Independent via email to clarify what he considered to be misrepresentations about the citizens’ petitions he submitted.

“Lots of inaccuracies continue,” wrote LaGoy.

“Jane commented that the entire route must be designed before work can start,” he explained. “That is not true. It only applies if the committee is looking to get TIP [Transportation Improvement Program] funding through DOT [the Massachusetts Department of Transportation]. DOT requires a mini-road-type development; their current cost estimate for four sections is over $2,500,000 per mile, while a trail, much more like what Holliston built, is more like $200,000 per mile.

“So for a Holliston-type trail,” he continued, “costs would be $1.600,000, or round it to $2,000,000 in total for the full 8 miles. For a DOT funding trail, the town is responsible for 20% of the costs. So an 8-mile trail, at $2.5M [per mile] is $20,000,000, with the town’s share at $4,000,000. And that’s assuming that 80:20 split. The current Main Street work is more like a 50:50 split.”

LaGoy also explained his reasoning for proposing that the UCTC be reconfigured as a TCMC subcommittee.

“The plan for the UCT subcommittee, under the TCMC, would be a subcommittee similar to a school building committee,” he wrote, “where members would be appointed by the parent committee but selected from the pool of potential members based on interest and expertise.”

He also charged that statements made by Sonnett and Post were inaccurate.

“I do like that they’re all hoping and praying for the ‘western alternative,’ ” he wrote. “Yet when I presented it to their committee back in January 2022, they didn’t even have a debrief about the option at their next meeting (despite a couple of their members requesting such further discussion). I presented; that was it, with the exception of very occasional 2-3 minutes of lip service to the option.

“And Eric’s recollection of history doesn’t quite match my version,” he countered about joining the UCTC. “I don’t remember being asked, let alone any begging.”

Contradicting the point Post made about there being no other option to Segment 7 at this time, LaGoy wrote that Trails Club members presented a map to the UCTC “clearly showing that there were two options for the central section AND [his emphasis] two options for the southern section.”

Wrote LaGoy: “We made the map for Scott Knous, he presented it to the committee, and they decided they didn’t want to use it.”

One would require a longer bridge over a 110-foot beaver pond crossing plus granite ledge work, which the UCTC discussed briefly during the meeting.

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