AYER -- Commuter rail-riders found a fence blocking their usual path to the rail station on Monday, after private property owner Phil Berry erected one along the lines of his property in a surprise move over the weekend.
The fence, which runs along the track and makes a right angle along Archer's Mobil, redirected people to walk around the lot behind Carlin's Tavern and by the gas station in order to get on the commuter rail platform. By Tuesday, the portion of it directly in front of the tracks had been removed, allowing passengers direct access to the station without having to walk along the tracks.
When reached by phone on Sunday, Berry offered no comment and hung up.
Bruno Fisher, deputy administrator for the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, said the MBTA, MART and the town have been working with Berry on establishing safe access to the station for about a year. The town received $3.2 million in October for the expansion of the Rail Trail parking lot, but Fisher said one stipulation requires clear access to the station.
The dispute, Fisher said, is really between the MBTA and Berry, as the MBTA has the easement allowing commuters to walk across Berry's property.
"I gather it's his contention that he owns the property," Fisher said. "He's going to apparently try to dictate the pathway that he wants to have used out there for the commuter rail patrons that use that specific station.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email on Monday that Berry told the MBTA he has been trying to work with the town and MART since last year.
"In the next 30 days, the MBTA and the property owner, in consultation with the town, will work to identify a mutually acceptable solution," Pesaturo wrote on Tuesday, adding that it's important for commuter rail rider to have a safe, accessible path of travel.
Officials from MBTA and MART met with Berry on Tuesday afternoon regarding the issue, according to a town-wide public advisory sent through email on Tuesday. The MBTA required Berry to remove the portion of the fence "to allow safe, direct public access to and from the train platform," the advisory states.
The town did not receive official notification, according to a public advisory sent to Nashoba Publishing on Monday by Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand.
"This appears to be a property dispute between Mr. Phil Berry and the MBTA," the statement read. "The town of Ayer does not own any of the property in dispute."
But MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo clarified that there is no property dispute between the MBTA and Berry.
The town is in consultation with the MBTA and MART over the matter, according to the statement from Pontbriand, but it has no legal jurisdiction over Berry's property or the platform and property owned by the MBTA.
"The town of Ayer will respond to public safety/health emergencies at the train station platform only," the statement reads.
Fisher said MART does not have a preference on station access, but is leaving it up to the wishes of the MBTA and the Federal Transit Administration, which approved the grant.
But some parcels along Park Street must be sold before the project comes to fruition, Nashoba Publishing reported in October. Berry also owns property on Park Street.
MART officials will update selectmen on Tuesday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m.