SEABROOK — Sparks flew at the selectmen’s meeting this week over pursuit of building a recreation trail, but in the end, Selectman Theresa Kyle again lost her bid to put a halt to the project she says she’ll never approve.
This is the second time in a month Kyle has butted heads with fellow Selectman Aboul Khan and Planning Board chairman Jason Janvrin over filing for grants to pay for the repair and resurface of abandoned railroad beds in town.
At its mid-May meeting, selectmen OK’d the town to apply for a $200,000 grant that would create the first phase of the recreation trail in town, running from Railroad Avenue to the library, but over Kyle’s objection.
Seabrook’s section is seen as a vital link in the New England recreation trail intended to go from Boston through Maine. Much south of Seabrook in Massachusetts is completed or on the drawing board, including the Salisbury portion that will connect to Seabrook at the state line along Route 286.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation purchased the unused tracks in Seabrook through Hampton. NHDOT is not in a financial position to build the trail itself, according to Helen Lalime, head of the Friends of the Seabrook Rail Trail, but the state is fully behind the effort.
Along with the $200,000 grant already applied for in May, Janvrin told selectmen a federal program offers another $400,000, but Seabrook must send a letter of interest by July 1 to be eligible. Known as the TAP, or Transpiration Alternative Program grant, it’s offered to municipalities only, so Janvrin was before selectmen again asking for approval to send the letter.
The grant, he said, if received, would mean $320,000 for the town’s second phase of the project of resurfacing the tracks from the state line at Route 286 to Walton Road. It would stop at the now disassembled bridge that once spanned Walton Road until the new bridge is fashioned by the state, he said, something already in the works for the future.
The town would be responsible for the remaining 20 percent match, Janvrin said, a stipulation to which Kyle is vehemently opposed. She doesn’t want any “taxpayer money” on the rail trail project, she said. She said since the state owns the tracks, they can take the property back at any time.
According to Town Manager Bill Manzi, it’s still unclear if the match has to be cash or what’s known as “a soft match” of volunteer labor and donated materials, supplies and equipment to complete the project.
Kyle and Khan said if cash is required, the Planning Board — which fully supports rail trail construction — would be willing to use donations given by developers who build large projects in town. Janvrin said the donation fund is earmarked for transportation projects, and rail trails qualify.
Kyle, who insisted the rail trail is not a public endeavor but a private project created by Janvrin and Khan, balked at using money from the donation fund.
“(The rail trail is) not a transportation project,” Kyle told Janvrin. “A rail trail is not a necessity. Your priorities are way out of whack.”
At one point in the debate, tempers grew so hot, Janvrin called Kyle to task for her demeanor.
“I’m the chairman of the Planning Board, an elected board, and I don’t appreciate being spoken to like that,” Janvrin said.
“And I don’t appreciate what you put on your Facebook page about me,” Kyle responded.
Khan tried to calm the situation and explain the board’s long history, since 2008, of doing what it could to push the rail trail forward.
“If (the Board of Selectmen) doesn’t continue to support this, it will never get done,” Khan said. “We need to see this finished.”
“This selectman is never going to support it,” Kyle said. “I’m never going to feel any different.”
Boards of Selectmen over the years have voted their support of the rail trail, a concept brought to them by local citizens. Seen as part of the Safe Routes to School objective, as well as a way to encourage exercise and a safe place to ride a bike, push a carriage or just take a walk, Town Meeting also voted its support for it on at least two separate occasions.
The most recent vote by Town Meeting to bolster the forward motion of the rail trail’s momentum came in March, Lalime said, when $25,000 seed money was approved for the trail. That money was for getting the project going, she added.
The abandoned trails were once a mess, a place that did nothing but accumulate trash and vandalism, Khan explained to Selectman Ellie Brown, new to the board and asking for background. The town’s engineering consultant donated $10,000 of its time drawing up plans for the trail, he said, and hundreds of hours of volunteer labor and business donations clean the area up every year. The rails are beautiful, he said, a place anyone in town can use and enjoy.
“I wouldn’t walk down there alone as a woman,” Kyle insisted.
“It’s no different than going to any other (public) park,” Khan said.
Lalime said other communities along the Seacoast are moving on the project. Discussions have even been held with the owners of the nuclear power plant in town, over which some of the trails travel. The owners, she said, were supportive, offering to help. A detour around secure areas is already in the works, she added.
Seabrook’s segment of this project is pivotal, she said, since it would be the first link in the New Hampshire chain that abuts the state line.
Listening and questioning the process, Brown offered the motion to send the letter in an attempt get the grant. Khan approved. Kyle announced a loud “No.”
The problem of finding the match money or in-kind services for soft match, Brown and Khan said, will be dealt with if and when the town gets that far.