Part 2 in a series
By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY -- Interviewed about his recent resignation from the Montachusett Area Regional Transit advisory board on which he served for three decades as the town's appointed representative, an hour's conversation with lifelong resident Richard Hatch turned into a lot more.
One might say it was enhanced by the sum of its parts.
Hatch drew from his memories like a tinker rummaging in his travel bag. Having just resigned from his long-term participation in the Montachusett Area Regional Transit (MART) advisory board, he spoke of feeling increasingly ineffective as the needs he cited for his town of Shirley received little attention.
He talked about the MBTA parking lot in Shirley and the gap between the spaces the agency provides and what is actually needed and used. MART neither provided the spaces needed nor maintained what was being used by rail commuters.
Last winter, commuter volume increased substantially, Hatch said, citing a count of 136 commuter vehicles parked from Phoenix Bar & Grill all the way to the Bemis Co. driveway. It included the 25 spaces in the MBTA budget agreement, overflowing into spaces created for local business parking during the grant-funded StreetScape Program.
Recently, Hatch saw an opportunity for the MBTA to tackle a one-day improvement project, but nothing came of it. Temporarily offline in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Hatch figured the shut-down would allow time to "bring a loader to Shirley and grade the gravel lot." So he suggested it in a message left with an official at the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, on which he once served as chairman. When he didn't hear back, he figured nobody at the MBTA was working those days anyway, he said.
DPW Director Paul Farrar "deserves a lot of credit" for taking on such tasks himself, Hatch said, noting that the scope of work called for in the agreement includes clearing designated spaces before commuters arrive in the morning and hauling the snow away. The town was not paid for the extra work, which included clearing more than 25 spaces and leveling part of the parking lot, so steeply pitched that parked cars sometimes rolled into the road when conditions were slippery, he said.
As a "dirt guy" from Shirley, a label given to him by a former selectman because of his background in the excavating business, Hatch said he could pinpoint the work to be done at the train station and estimate its cost.
"For less than $100,000, you could grade, pave and install lights in the gravel area on MBTA property," he said.
He's brought it up many times at MART advisory board meetings and was told that meetings would be set up with the selectmen to talk about improvements and operating cost updates, he said. But it never happened.
At the last board meeting in March, Hatch announced that if there was no meeting set up by June 30, his tenure would end with that session.
"I told them I felt like a crow flying with a flock of eagles and one hawk," he said, referencing as the eagles the mayors of Fitchburg and Leominster and MART and MRPC officials and Mayor Mark Hawke of Gardner.
Clearly, he was frustrated by the MBTA's lack of attention to relatively minor details that needed tending to in Shirley while spending millions elsewhere. Specifically, $169 million in state and federal funding and another $42 million the MBTA allocated for substantial upgrades along the Fitchburg-to-Boston rail line that included a bridge replacement, new train stations in South Acton, Littleton and Leominster, a new Wachusett Station platform, a new layover facility in Westminster and surface parking lots in Westminster and Ayer.
But he didn't take his decision to quit lightly.
"I have served from before the time the MBTA commuter train ever stopped in Shirley," he said, in his resignation letter, noting that MART Director Mohammed Khan has often credited him as "the one who actually got the train to stop in Shirley" in the first place. It was a momentous occasion, as he recalled it, ribbon-cutting and all.
Hatch sketched a celebratory Saturday when all the students in the town's only school at the time, Lura A. White elementary and middle school, "and both Shirley's young and old" were invited to take a free train ride to Gardner and back. Hundreds showed up and Selectman Sophie Jurga cut the ribbon, he said.
Eventually, the present train station was built, with a platform, signage and a small, Victorian-style, open-air building.
End of part 2.