Letter to the Editor: A View on Community Input to the Reformatory Branch Design

~Submitted by Dori Pulizzi

The debate over the Reformatory Branch Trail is long standing. At the 2010 Town Meeting, I presented from the stage, and spoke out against paving. Along with many others, I believe that “less is more.” 

Town leaders assured us of future chances to discuss possible designs, including alternatives to pavement. Wishing to be conciliatory, I publicly recommended  “yes” to a design process. 

At that meeting, Janet Powers made a motion to add an amendment to create a committee to ensure planning be done in concurrence with community preferences.  It was voted down. 

The turn of events at that meeting and after haunts me.

Town leaders swiftly applied for outside funding, which hinged on using pavement. As a result, we lost our opportunity to provide input on the design. Since 2010, the writing has been on the wall: pavement is at the heart of the plan. 

Having been robbed of any real opportunity for input, some opted out of attending design meetings. 

Although townspeople voted down the project at the March 2022 Town Meeting, the Select Board brought back the issue.  At board and committee meetings since, some town officials have acted like pavement is a done deal.

At our upcoming Town Meeting, leaders will link funding with pavement. Their presentation will likely offer a false binary: vote for paving and support an influx of funding OR vote against paving and hurt the town’s financial well being. 

This is an attempt to frame the argument in a way that paints those who have fought long and hard to preserve a community treasure as small-minded and selfish. This type of governing hurts our community. 

In cases of eminent domain, the government must weigh the losses against the public good.  Consider the Quabbin Reservoir. Citizens of four Massachusetts towns lost their homes so that people near Boston had enough water. In balancing citizens’ needs, hard decisions were made. There were winners and losers.

In this case, there’s no real need. Some in town, to fulfill their agenda, have manufactured a need enticing voters to support paving by linking it to funding. 

They’ve ignored and minimized residents’ concerns, and will attempt to use eminent domain. The losses are real. This sets a dangerous precedent for local control.

This is our town. 

Use your voice! Preserve our trail, and vote NO on Question 10!

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Patty Dahlgren
November 8, 2022 8:16 am

I will use my voice to vote NO with you. Thank you for your care and courage. This is exactly what’s happened. Buckle up for the Pro PAVERS who will bulldoze everything you contribute. We hear you.

McClain, John
November 7, 2022 11:16 pm

Let’s not take the Select Board to task for responding to the will of a clear majority Town Meeting voters who wanted the project. Let’s also not blame them for being fiscally responsible and giving Town Meeting the opportunity to leverage state and Federal money to address a number needs the town has. Generally finding ways to leverage state and Federal funds is something we want our town government to do.

You many not agree with the policy the Select Borad is pursuing, but they are acting in good faith in what they believe are the best interests of the town are.

It is of course Town Meeting’s prerogative to reject the project outright, or reject the project because they don’t want it on terms acceptable to the state or Federal government. But if for whatever reason Town Meeting walks away from this deal we should’t fool ourselves into thinking the choice isn’t binary. For better or worse funding is linked to current design. At this point there is no way to make significant changes to the project and retain funding. We can reject the project but whatever alternative we come up with will cost more and won’t be quick.

Tim Bennett
November 7, 2022 10:47 pm

Thankfully, in this eminent domain discussion the stakes are far lower. No one is losing their home, just small strips of land intersecting land already used by the public every day that they were likely ignorant of before the matter and surprised they even owned. Many arguments I have seen from the other side actually come from the reverse: a private entitlement to public land, as is the case from those arguing that the community using the RBT to its full potential and adding picnic benches near the Concord Road terminus of the trail will hurt a private business.

McClain, John
November 8, 2022 11:49 am
Reply to  Tim Bennett

Not only are many of the parcels the town needs to buy narrow strips, but they are already heavily encumbered by prescriptive easements, heavily limiting what the current owners can do with the land. It will be better for everyone if land being put to public use is in public hands.

November 7, 2022 9:12 pm

There is a real need for my family and husband who is in a wheelchair. Having this trail paved is beneficial to those who require a smooth flat surface, like us and many others in our town. I support this project as it is something that will bring access now and with the states help, even better.

Laura Wallace
November 7, 2022 8:27 pm

Well said! I totally agree. You have provided a clear overview of the issues involved.

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