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New Bedford has ‘unwavering’ support for South Coast Rail, but wants better deal for land, attorney says

A new commuter rail station in Middleborough was under construction in February as part of the South Coast Rail project.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The city of New Bedford’s attorney said it has “unwavering” support for South Coast Rail despite threatening to sue the MBTA on a claim it wrongly seized city property for the project, and suggested the city is primarily concerned with getting the best deal for the land.

Eric Jaikes, New Bedford’s city solicitor, said in a statement the city and the MBTA are in ongoing talks over the price of land the T seized by eminent domain in 2020 and 2021. Jaikes also noted that at least four others have sued the transit agency to get more money for land the T took for South Coast Rail, which promises to extend commuter rail service to the region for the first time since the 1950s.


A draft complaint the city sent the T last month, however, threatened to go further, arguing that land the T seized should be “invalid” because New Bedford was not yet part of the MBTA’s service district.

The complaint — which was crafted by attorneys from the firm , Drohan Tocchio & Morgan, and was obtained by The Boston Globe — also charged the payments the city received were “grossly inadequate” given the millions it spent cleaning up the property. MBTA officials paid New Bedford $486,627 for the land, where the T is putting a station, parking spaces, and a train layover site.

“The Mitchell administration has long advocated for the South Coast Rail Project and remains unwavering in its support for it,” Jaikes said in a statement, referencing Mayor Jon Mitchell. “Like the other property owners, the administration believes the taxpayers of New Bedford should be fairly compensated for city land taken by the MBTA. We are hopeful that ongoing discussions with the MBTA concerning the city land ultimately will secure their interests.”

The statement — the city’s first public comment since the Globe reported on the draft complaint — did not address whether the city would still consider challenging the T’s eminent domain authority should it not receive a payment it believes is fair.


A person who answered the phone in the city solicitor’s office Tuesday said Jaikes was not in the office for the rest of the week, nor could he provide Jaikes’ e-mail without his permission.

It’s possible the subject could emerge again publicly Wednesday when Mitchell, a Democrat, is slated to give his State of the City address at New Bedford High School.

The potential for litigation has roiled other local elected officials, who questioned whether such an unusual challenge of the T’s eminent domain authority would benefit the city.

Four Democratic lawmakers who represent the city said in a joint statement Tuesday the draft complaint is “something quite different” than the other challenges the T has faced in eminent domain cases, and that they disagree with the legal argument.

“Alleging that the MBTA does not have the authority for the taking to begin would possibly delay the completion of the downtown station and potentially throw a wrench in the Southcoast Rail project as a whole,” state representatives Christopher Hendricks of New Bedford, Christopher Markey of Dartmouth, Paul Schmid of Westport, and William Straus of Mattapoisett said in the statement.

“We do not see how this aggressive approach fosters the continuing working relationships the City and the legislative delegation need to work on this or other projects benefitting our region,” the lawmakers said.


The South Coast Rail project, which would restore commuter rail service to the region for the first since the 1950s, has a tortured history, marked by stalled planning and warnings about ballooning costs. But it gained traction in recent years after then-governor Charlie Baker’s administration embraced a plan to split the construction into phrases.

In 2019, the state — not the MBTA — said it would pick up the roughly $1 billion tab for the first phase of extending commuter rail service from Boston through Middleborough to New Bedford and Fall River.

The MBTA said last year service is expected to start in late 2023, though officials have yet to set a formal date. It’s expected to take riders from Fall River and New Bedford about 90 minutes to reach Boston.

Yet, the draft complaint underscored that behind the scenes, New Bedford and the T have been at odds over the value of the land the T seized. Portions of it were once part of the city’s “railroad depot project” site, which the city said it spent $17.3 million cleaning up, according to the complaint. After cobbling together insurance and other reimbursements, the net cost to the city was $9.9 million, the city said.

The MBTA’s offer amounted to a “fraction” of the city’s costs, according to the complaint.

In his statement, Jaikes said in at least one other case a jury awarded a New Bedford property owner $3.51 million for land the T seized, roughly $1.2 million more than what the MBTA originally paid. In another case, the lawsuit was settled out of court, while two others are still pending, Jaikes said.


Matt Stout can be reached at Follow him @mattpstout.