AYER -- Following weeks of negotiations over the town's commuter-rail access dilemma, selectmen have voted to appoint an advisory committee to help with the process.
The group's resolution, sent in an email to the town administrator by resident Harry Zane, is to serve as a "conduit between the BOS, the residents of Ayer and the commuter to provide updates on the status of the project, upcoming deadlines and designs under discussion." The new advisory committee will consist of three volunteer residents.
Residents helped develop a design for the project as part of a parking task force and charette in 2007, the resolution states, but many in the community fear the results of that work are not being considered.
The resolution also argues that residents who have worked to secure funding for the new parking facility "suffer from a lack of transparency and critical updates on the project."
The plans for the parking plan are on hold while the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and private-property owner Phil Berry work out an accessible pedestrian path from the planned parking lot to the commuter-rail station.
Citizens took action when an informal group called the Ayer Rail Station Advocates sent a petition to the MBTA and Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary and Chief Executive Officer Richard Davey, urging them to "take prompt action."
Zane explained to selectmen that the idea for an appointed group came from state Sen. Jamie Eldridge and a group that was formed in Acton to respond to similar issues.
Selectman Chairman Christopher Hillman said the group is a great idea.
"The dial's been turned up to about 12 on this recently, and I think this is perfect timing," he said.
The MBTA caught some heat at the last selectmen's meeting for not attending a meeting with representatives from U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas and other parties to discuss the matter.
But MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo later said in an email the MBTA was not invited.
Devens Wastewater Agreement
Selectmen hit a roadblock in attempts to renegotiate a wastewater agreement with MassDevelopment. The agreement that extends through 2021 allows Ayer to dispose of 0.80 million gallons of wastewater per day at the Devens treatment plant.
In an April letter to MassDevelopment CEO Marty Jones, Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said the town would like to reduce the overall capacity, for which the town is charged a certain rate. He also asked for the contract to not include a minimum flow, and instead charge the town based on actual flow.
Reporting to selectmen, Department of Public Works Superintendent Mark Wetzel said that MassDevelopment claimed they approached the town in 2006 and asked if Ayer wanted to sell back any of its reserve capacity.
"At that time the town said no," Wetzel said.
Pontbriand noted that at this point, there are no official documents in the selectmen's office that indicate there was an official discussion or action on the matter.
George Ramirez, executive vice president of Devens operations at MassDevelopment, also wrote in a letter to Pontbriand that Ayer's requests would increase Shirley's cost by $13,828 and increase costs for the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Shirley by $28,534.
"Unfortunately...the financial impact to not only MDFA (Massachusetts Development Finance Agency) but also to our customers including the Town of Shirley and MCI-Shirley would be too great to consider the request at this time," read the letter, obtained from the selectmen's office after the meeting.
The letter explains that since Ayer's then-DPW superintendent Mike Madigan decided not to reduce its capacity, MDFA paid $6.75 million to upgrade the wastewater plant to make room for Bristol Myers-Squibb.
Pontbriand said MassDevelopment's assertion has been referred to town counsel, which is looking at the original 2001 contract between the town and MassDevelopment. The contract, Pontbriand said, is not well written.
"There are no legal mechanisms to trigger openings for renegotiation," he said. "And really, as the superintendent and I have discussed as well as others, we lack a chip in the game as far as the contract is concerned."
Old Groton Road
Wetzel told selectmen that the DPW is starting to work on both ends of Old Groton Road, writing in a memo that there will be some minor stormwater improvements near both Washington Street and Pleasant Street.
But he said he is waiting for town counsel's opinion on whether the road is private before doing any further work on the actual road. If the road is owned by abutters, he explained, it's illegal for the town to spend money to do work on the road.
"As far as doing other work up there, I think number one, we need to get a ruling from town counsel, and number two, we need to go up and figure out where the boundaries are," he said.