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Neponset corridor plan misses out on federal grant

It may be up to local community groups and officials to find the $13.1 million still needed to finish the last segments of the 9-mile Neponset River Corridor, now that the state has been denied federal grant money.

Some local officials plan to search for other sources of funding for the project, while the state plans to reevaluate it and look into possible grants or partnerships with local organizations and businesses.

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The state Department of Conservation and Recreation had submitted a proposal in November for a $13.1 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant from the US Department of Transportation. The money would have paid for two new bridges, boardwalks along the path, and repairs to buildings at two of the sites along the riverside greenway that connects the Boston Harbor to the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton.

But the DCR was informed on Dec. 15 that it was not selected to receive the money. DCR spokeswoman S.J. Port said the agency is still committed to the project, but would now have to look for alternative sources of funding.

“Unfortunately, it is the case that we did not secure the funding we needed, but the state remains committed to this and we will be starting those conversations’’ in 2012, Port said last week.

Options could include reapplying for the TIGER money, asking DCR partners such as the Friends of Blue Hills or other local organizations for financial support, or applying for any number of other grants.

Port said the TIGER grant was the largest available for the project at the time, but that “doesn’t mean it’s the only option.’’

In addition, DCR Commissioner Edward Lambert Jr. said the state and community can work with partners such as Stop & Shop in Hyde Park and National Grid, which both had agreed to help before DCR learned it had been denied the federal grant.

“We’re disappointed, but we are committed to continuing to advance the ball,’’ Lambert said. “We’ve started an internal discussion, and we will start reaching out to our partners to see if there is alternative funding available.’’

Some 10,400 riders, walkers, and runners use the corridor every day despite areas that aren’t paved or considered safe.

Last year Bike Milton, a bicycling advocacy group, spent time working with the state to tweak the design and garner support for the project.

Lee Toma, an advocate with Bike Milton, said he spent several days counting the number of people using the path and helped write letters of support that were included with the grant application.

Members of the Mattapan Fitness Coalition also wrote support letters. Coalition member Vivien Morris said in November that, no matter the outcome of the grant application, her group would continue to lobby Mattapan residents for help.

“We still feel there is a lot of work to be done, and we need to make sure that there are more people taking part in this, so we will continue letting people know about it and what they can do,’’ Morris said.

Others, such as Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey, have said they would push to find funding and urge those in the private sector to step up and help.

“I’m very disturbed by the [federal] decision,’’ Yancey said last week. “We’re not going back to square one, but we need to go back to the table and really discuss ways to fund this.’’

Milton officials, however, may take a hands-off approach, leaving the search for funding to the state but continuing to back the corridor from a distance.

In November, the town’s Board of Selectmen wrote a letter of support for the project but did not take any lead in pursuing other sources of funding. That most likely will remain the case, Town Administrator Kevin Mearn said.

“It is disappointing that the state was unable to secure the funding, because it would have gone a long way to making sure the trails were complete,’’ he said.

He added, however: “It’s their project and they have been the lead agency up to this point in time, and funding will probably remain with them.’’

Natalie Feulner can be reached at natalie.feulner@gmail.com.
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