It was more or less a Hail Mary pass that no one caught: At the Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting on Sept. 5, the board considered calling another informational meeting to discuss the Shoreline Greenway Trail (SGT). There was no plan on the table or vote for any kind of approval, but a 2-2 split vote brought the motion down, closing the chance for another discussion.
The agenda called for a discussion and possible action on calling a meeting for Sept. 19 to discuss the previously proposed section of the SGT. Selectmen Cynthia Cartier and Gary MacElhiney voted “No” and Cahrles Havrda and First Selectman JoeMazza voted “Yes,” splitting the vote and defeating the motion to call a meeting. Selectman Carl Balestracci was not present.
The SGT is a planned, 25-mile continuous path designed for cyclists, walkers, and hikers. It is envisioned to, once completed, span five towns, with New Haven marking one end and Hammonasset State Park in Madison marking the other (though Clinton is now beginning work to extend the Madison trail further). The first section of the trail proposed in Guilford was 0.7 miles long and would have linked the East River Bridge to the junction of Boston Street and Route 1. The project was estimated to cost $840,055, and $875,000 had been secured in the form of state and federal grants to fund the project. However, the proposed section was hotly contested and the BOS officially voted “No” on the proposed section of trail on Jan. 17.
So why bring it up again? Mazza said Town Engineer Jim Portley came to him to remind him that a good portion of the funds for the project come from the state and have a deadline for a construction start or the funds are taken away. With that in mind, Mazza said he wanted to at least open up the conversation again and see if more people would be receptive if there was more public input in the design, a primary complaint amongst residents when the plan was first put forward.
“The BOS heard all of this and that was one of the reasons that the plan was defeated,” he said. “Jim came to me and he said we still have these funds, we have to do something, we told [the state Department of Transportation (DOT)] and the public that we would maybe do another plan, but we have to have public input.”
Mazza said the only thing the board was voting on at the meeting was if a meeting should be called—not a plan or any kind of design approval.
“What we were attempting to do was only to set a meeting date and time,” he said. “That was the agenda—not to approve a plan. There is no plan. There is no design—just [a proposal for a meeting] to seek input. That is it. That is all that was and [audience members] were hearing none of it.”
Mazza, who is not seeking re-election in the November elections, said the trail is unlikely to be raised again during his tenure.
“[I]f the DOT doesn’t take the money away, I think it is up to the new board after the election,” he said. “I can’t see it coming up under this board again.”
Portley has slightly different hope for the timeline. He said if the issue is brought up again when the full board is present, the chance of having a public meeting might increase. Portley said he had asked for the meeting to seek public input on some changes he was considering to the design, including moving the trail closer to the road to limit vegetation removal, decreasing the width down to eight feet, and changing the material to plain concrete so that the path looks more like a sidewalk.
“I was just trying to clear the air and let people know that this wouldn’t have to be maintained by the property owners,” he said of the trail. “If we decided to remove snow, that would be something the town would do and that was the whole intention of why I wanted to have this. If that was acceptable to the BOS, then I was going to proceed with the design because I wanted to meet our obligation to the state to have the plans ready for construction for next year.”
Portley said decisions would have to be made soon to allow time for public input and for him to finish the design within the state timeline.
“It’s not like I don’t have any work to do—I have plenty of work to do,” he said. “I just want to make sure that everybody understands the consequences of deciding not to go forward. That is all.”
Portley said his commitment to this project doesn’t have so much to do with the trail as it does the need for more sidewalks in town.
“If we go forward, we go forward,” he said. “If we don’t, I will be disappointed because the 2002 transportation study that the town adopted calls for there to be a sidewalk. We were talking about extending sidewalks out from the center of town so that you promoted people getting out and walking around and having travel alternatives. Our plan called for the extension out from the center of town all the way to the Madison line with the expectation that maybe in the future that Madison would have sidewalks, too.”