The Upper Charles Trail Committee at its meeting Wednesday night briefly addressed two citizens’ petitions for the Annual Town Meeting warrant proposed by a local trails advocate, one that seeks to dismantle the current committee and form a new one with new members.
UCTC Chair Jane Moran said the move was designed to promote an alternative to Segment 7, located between 147 and 192 Hayden Rowe Street, that the Upper Charles Trail Committee (UCTC) has been advocating for despite facing strong public pushback.
Earlier this week, resident Peter LaGoy told the Hopkinton Independent that he was submitting two citizens’ petitions regarding the UCTC to be placed on the warrant for consideration. The chair of the town’s Trails Coordination and Management Committee (TCMC), LaGoy has been a vocal critic of the UCTC’s work, saying that it has not been responsive to the community’s needs.
The first request was that the UCTC not be able to spend any more public funds on Segment 7 along busy Hayden Rowe Street. There has been strong resident opposition about this proposal over the past year.
The other petition calls for the abolishment of the UCTC, which was formed in 2012 to create a trail that would connect to Milford and Ashland. But its proposals that create segments involving Hayden Rowe Street have frustrated some residents who oppose the taking of land and the millions of dollars estimated for straightening the road. The petition proposed to replace the UCTC with a subcommittee of the TCMC. It also asked that the TCMC be renamed the Trails Committee.
LaGoy previously has been critical of some of the UCTC’s decisions. In November, he questioned the spending of MassTrails grant funding for an engineering study of Segment 6 of the trail, which has been proposed to go around Marathon School and cross Hayden Rowe Street. Moran explained that the $128,000 in grant funding had been allocated for that purpose to see if a trail there would be feasible.
Moran read a statement at the beginning of the meeting to address LaGoy’s petitions.
“I’d like to take a moment and share some thoughts as it relates to two petitions filed on Jan. 30, 2023, by Peter LaGoy and friends and associates and acquaintances,” she said.
“The Trails Management and Coordination Committee, commonly known as the TCMC, recently applied for just under $50,000 to be used for what we refer to as the western alignment,” Moran explained. “[This] could be an alternative for our Segment 7, which I feel in my heart is the subject of these petitions.”
She added that if this TCMC funding request were approved at Town Meeting, “This work could begin as early as July 2023.” The TCMC also voted to spend $5,000 from its budget for engineering studies for a bridge crossing at Route 85 near the Milford Upper Charles Trail parking lot, according to Moran. She noted that “both of these studies are essential to the western alignment, as it has been explained to our committee.”
Moran noted that the UCTC previously decided to postpone any decisions regarding Segment 7 until the engineering studies of the western alignment are completed.
“So Mr. LaGoy’s actions are perplexing to me,” she said. “And I have to ask myself, ‘What is the rush?’ It would seem reasonable to at least wait until the engineering studies have been completed. Then we can all collaborate and make a meaningful and thoughtful and just intelligent decision based upon facts.”
“I think we have to deal with that one way or another,” UCTC treasurer Scott Knous said of LaGoy’s petitions.
“I was hoping that a simple statement at the beginning would address this,” Moran countered. “I think it’s a long way before Town Meeting.”
She added: “Our planning and our job is to continue our progress.”
Website updates explained
Dave Daltorio, the town engineer and facilities director, said that he and Michelle Murdock, the town’s professional project specialist, have continued to compile answers to questions raised in emails as well as survey responses after the committee received requests for increased transparency. There are only two questions left that he and Murdock are researching answers for, he noted. The other 12 mentioned at the last meeting two weeks ago have been addressed.
Murdock explained changes to the town’s website that were designed to improve access to information about the UCTC. Murdock and Daltorio discussed tabs that contained documents including maps, plans and survey data, as well as a link to a public input form.
Member Jamie Wronka questioned where the comments that were included in online surveys were uploaded as well as those provided at an in-person meeting last April.
She also asked if the previous UCTC website was now defunct, noting that it has a better map.
“I think a map embedded onto the screen would make sense,” she said of the public input page, noting that people could use it as a reference.
“It’s less than helpful if you can’t see [the map],” added member Cynthia Esthimer.
“The old website has nothing to do with the town,” Daltorio added. While Wronka noted that it had a government extension, Daltorio said it was previously created by the UCTC. Moran said the site couldn’t be shut down because the company that created it is defunct. Wronka asked that information from that site be merged with the town’s UCTC page.
Daltorio said he would reach out to the town’s information technology department to have a representative take feedback from the committee at an upcoming meeting. He noted that the entire town website will be receiving an overhaul in the next couple of weeks.
Wronka volunteered to go through the pages of public information forms to extract and compile public comments so that they can be more easily accessible to the public in an effort to increase transparency.
Public engagement effort stepped up
Knous gave a report on a subgroup that met on Monday and is concerned with increasing public engagement about the committee. It is working on identifying “influencers and leaders” on town committees and in online groups. A UCTC liaison could request an initial meeting to see if a group was interested in learning more information.
He explained that this would allow the UCTC to “meet them where they are,” crafting a communication style that would resonate with each group. Some may prefer a representative speaking at a committee meeting while others may prefer posting a form or letter on a Facebook page.
After these interactions have occurred, Knous said the information gathered will be checked for veracity and then disseminated to the community.
The next meeting will be held Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m.