GU: Agrees to Land Terms with Town of Hopedale MA

EXPANDING RAILROAD AND INDUSTRY-WOUNDED TOWN FIND A MIDDLE PATH TO THE BENEFIT OF BOTH

25.January, Hopedale MA — Grafton & Upton Railroad (as represented by associated entities) signed a Settlement Agreement with the Town of Hopedale to divide a ~130 acre property of undeveloped forest and wetlands recently acquired by the railroad. The Town Board of Selectmen voted to accept a mediation settlement that effectively splits the disputed property, identified as five connected parcels. The Agreement secures vitally needed growing room for G&U on both sides of its active Hopedale ROW, while protecting the Town’s water resource and recreational priorities. 

Map of GU-Hopedale settlement
Hopedale MA – Several parcels in north Hopedale comprise the ~130 acres acquired by G&U, and subject of dispute with the Town of Hopedale, now resolved. Parcels A and D hold importance as active and potential Town drinking water supplies. They will become Town property by transaction (Parcel A), and donation (Parcel D). The Town and G&U have agreed to unilateral and reciprocal easements as groundwater and development matters are worked out. G&U keeps Parcels Band C, and an easement to build a connecting vehicle bridge across the Town-owned Mill River corridor. Parcel E, and an 18-acre tract already owned by G&U prior to the recent acquisition, are largely unaffected by the Agreement, except for a temporary easement to support the Town’s drinking water well development. G&U retains a total of ~100 acres of developable, industrial-zoned land on both sides of its ROW.

The Agreement conveys ~85 acres to the Town on two parcels (Parcels A and D) east of the railroad, comprising the Mill River corridor, which connects to the town’s drinking water resources, and may contain needed future well sites, and ~20 acres of new parkland. The Town is purchasing Parcel A (~64 acres) for $587, 500, and G&U will donate Parcel D (~21 acres) to the Town. The Town also gains considerable control of prospective drinking water sources, plus flexibility and support in developing them via G&U easements and contributions.{Settlement Term Sheet, Cmw of Mass Land Court 20MISC00467}.

G&U will retain ownership of Parcels B and C east of the railroad, and Parcel E, west. (Parcel E was not disputed, except as part of the property entire.) According to G&U President Michael Milanoski, the agreement “[leaves G&U] with over a hundred acres of developable, dry land that is also zoned heavy industrial.” Milanoski adds that, “finding rail-served greenfield sites in Massachusetts is nearly impossible {MM email, 26.Jan.2021}. 

The settlement loosely mirrors G&U’s original July 2020 proposal that the parties cooperate through a Public-Private Partnership effort, conceived to benefit the railroad’s expansion requirements and the Town’s resource priorities. Impediments arose due to social media-driven misperceptions of Town priorities, and hysteria over G&U’s aggressive pursuit of its interests (specifically, invoking eminent domain, petition for an STB declaratory order of exemption, and a rather back-door acquisition of the property). G&U’s strategy made clear that the town had little hope of ultimately preventing the railroad’s acquisition and use of the property, and that a settlement could be fashioned to cooperatively meet each side’s most pressing priorities. Ultimately, the agreement is better for the Town than the original offering, in which the Town would have had to contribute some of its own Parklands, and had more limited water protections than the new plan provides for.

In an email to the Milford Daily News, Milanoski said that the railroad was pleased with the outcome, from both business and corporate citizenship viewpoints: “GU is focused on economic development growth in an environmentally sensitive manner to meet the growing rail freight needs of the Commonwealth … GU has been a longstanding partner to the town of Hopedale, this railroad has operated in the town since 1890. We look forward to many more years of partnership with the town” {Alison Bosma, MDN, 26.Jan.2021}.