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    THE ARGUMENT

    Should Dover build the proposed rail trail?

    YES

    Dr. Kevin M. Ban

    Dover resident; President, Friends of the Dover Greenway

    Dr. Kevin M. Ban

    The town of Dover is fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful open spaces. In fact, many chose to live here because of the town’s rural charm and ready access to outdoor activities. The Dover Greenway would complement this environment by converting the unused rail line cutting through our town into a recreational path.

    We believe the proposed trail would offer a safer route for walking, jogging, and bicycling than our mostly sidewalk-free roads currently do. Equally important, by leasing the abandoned rail, we would maintain control of the MBTA-owned land that runs through our town. The trail’s central location would make outdoor recreation even more accessible to many residents, connecting our community even further. More than 70 Massachusetts communities that already have rail trails support this belief. Experience nationally and regionally shows that rail trails are safer for, and economically more valuable to, communities than unused and unmaintained rail corridors.

    The privacy concerns of abutters, and access questions of those who already use this land for equestrian or other purposes, need to be listened to and planned for as the project moves forward.

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    To those who believe Dover has enough outdoor space, consider the needs of our residents with disabilities, mothers who lack a place to exercise with a stroller, and children who deserve a safe place to ride their bikes. None of the rough hiking trails in town address these community needs.

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    For projects like this, attention to detail is paramount. Accordingly, the town has spent many hours reviewing the MBTA lease, the concerns of abutters, and cost/maintenance projections.

    Our nonprofit organization of Dover residents has offered, as a gift to the town, to raise from local donors the entire cost of the conversion and all ten-year maintenance expenses.

    Many reasonable questions and concerns have been raised by Dover’s residents about the project, as have arisen before other towns’ rail trails. Our assessment, as neighbors and taxpayers, is that all of these can be addressed, mitigated, or resolved by careful planning in the design phase. We firmly believe the Dover Greenway will become a wonderful addition to an already vibrant community and will be enjoyed by many future generations to come.

    NO

    Ralph Schlenker

    Dover resident, former selectman

    Ralph Schlenker

    One of the interesting but underreported features of rail bed to rail trail conversions, and of the reasons we should not proceed with the planned trail in Dover, is that MBTA standard leases prevent any environmental testing of those corridors prior to a town, not-for-profit, or other organization signing a lease for that property. Moreover, once a lease is signed, all liability for any environmental contamination and cleanup discovered on these rail beds falls to the lessee, not the MBTA or predecessor railroads. The law provides communities certain exemptions to this liability, but there is no guarantee Dover would qualify for them.

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    The idea that any town or third party would willfully walk into this potentially very expensive morass is mind-boggling. No one in their right mind would accept a similar risk in a private transaction. Clearly the MBTA, in full self-serving mode, is attempting to shed its responsibility for any potential problems and foist it onto unsuspecting towns, taxpayers, and future generations. Some folks will tell you that insurance can be purchased to eliminate or mitigate this risk. This is false. No insurance carrier would offer coverage for substances already in the ground; they will only provide coverage for future spills and contamination.

    Another aspect of this issue which demands full and honest investigation is the long-term cost to maintain these trails, including labor, material, and equipment, over 25, 50 or 99 years. This includes protective services (EMT, fire, and police); surface maintenance (how long will one coating of stone dust last with traffic and storm erosion?); cleanup of litter, animal waste, fallen trees, branches, and encroaching vegetation. To date, only wishful thinking has been applied to this concern. Is it really likely that not-for-profits or volunteers will cover this entire cost?

    Finally, the current proposed trail from the center of Dover to Hunt Drive assumes parking will magically appear. At the town center, parking is at churches, businesses, the Legion hall, and spaces at the Town House and public library. At Hunt Drive, no parking exists. Cars will have to park along a narrow roadway with a ninety-degree curve near the rail bed. This should be of great concern since Hunt Drive is the shortest preferred route for police, fire, and EMT services responding to the regional schools.

    Last week’s Argument: Should Concord support the proposed Junction Village assisted living project?

    Yes: 12.5 percent (2 votes)

    No: 87.5 percent (14 votes)

    As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com