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Needham officials want residents' opinions on two nature projects totaling $228k

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  September 26, 2013 04:50 PM

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Needham officials will hold a public hearing to find out what residents think about two outdoor recreation projects that are slated to cost the town a total of about $228,000.

The hearing, slated for Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall, will focus on the Bay Colony Rail Trail and the Ridge Hill Swamp Trail boardwalk projects, both of which require Town Meeting approval in November for funding from Needham's Community Preservation Act account.

Supporters of the Bay Colony Rail Trail, hope to gain Town Meeting approval to enter into a virtually free 99-year lease with the MBTA for the 2-milie Needham portion of the unused railroad route that would be turned into a hiking and biking trail. The trail would run from Needham Junction to the Charles River before snaking 3.5 miles through Dover and 1.5 miles into Medfield,

The lease would give the town control to build a passive recreation trail with a combination of public and private funds.

However, before Town Meeting can agree to the lease, town officials want members to agree to take out a $45,000 insurance policy against possible contamination on the trail.

Needham selectmen chair Dan Matthews said the two Town Meeting articles regarding the Bay Colony trail -- entering the MBTA lease and funding for insurance -- are tied together.

“We don’t believe it would be prudent to sign the trail lease if we don’t buy the insurance,” he said. "The MBTA might think so as well, since they also get protection out of us being covered."

Bay Colony trail supporter Tad Staley previously told the Globe that it could cost up to $880,000 to prepare and finish Needham’s portion, including such amenities as parking lots and benches.

The organization has already raised about $11,000, and if town officials give their go-ahead on the project, Staley said, he plans to seek funding from other town coffers, including the local Community Preservation Act program.

“We’re trying to make it a combination of private fund-raising and town money,” he previously told the Globe, “but we want to remove as much of the financial burden from the town’s taxpayers as we can.”

At the Oct. 9 hearing, the Community Preservation Committee will also discuss the Ridge Hill Swamp Trail boardwalk project. Supporters hope to use $183,000 of the program's funding to build a boardwalk over the trail's soggy swamp lands and rebuild a bridge that currently stands there. The bridge was built about 20 years ago and is deteriorating, according to town documents.

Town Meeting previously granted the project $58,000 for the design and permitting of the project, according to documents.

Officials also stated that the timely approval of the funds is crucial, as the process to find a contractor and begin construction must happen by the end of next summer when water tables are low, which keeps the project's cost down.

The Ridge Hill trail system sits on 350 acres of open space and woods. Many residents use the trails for running, hiking, and horseback riding, officials said.

More information on these two projects is available on the town's website.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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