Mediation discussions continue in dispute over 364 West StreetJan 29, 2021 10:37AM ● By Theresa Knapp
Conversations continue between the Town of Hopedale and the Grafton and Upton Railroad as the town tries to exercise its right of first refusal on a 155-acre parcel at 364 West Street in an effort to protect the town’s water supply. GURR purchased the land just days before a special town meeting voted 400-1 to buy the land that is just above the Hopedale Pond resource area and near the Upton Town Forest.
GURR plans to add a switching yard and five additional railroad tracks, erect industrial buildings, pave a large portion for parking lots and roads (including a new access road off Route 140), and cut down hundreds of trees that residents say will negatively affect the town’s water supply.
At the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Jan. 12, special counsel Peter F. Durning, who represents the town on the matter, gave a less-than-one-minute update, alluding that something was happening but he could not discuss it since the process is confidential.
“The mediation process has not concluded so there’s nothing to report back to the broader group,” Durning said. “I can assure residents that, if and when there is something to be considered in a public meeting, that will be brought and we will follow up on that.”
Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Brian Keyes, who is part of the negotiations, said “We have not changed path or lost any momentum or adrenalin. We continue to move forward, we take it very seriously.”
Residents on the Zoom call voiced concern that the process does not seem fully transparent and that the parties might reach an agreement without public input.
“It is a confidential process,” Durning said. “The board is committed to coming back and deliberating in a public session if one is warranted but, at this time, there is no further update.”
“Again, sorry to the residents and the public that we weren’t able to provide something more but more is coming,” Chairman Keyes said.
In October 2020, Hopedale residents voted 400-1 at an outdoor special town meeting to exercise its right of first refusal on the land to protect the town’s water quality, the aquifer, and to protect the future water supply. Hopedale also provides water to the Town of Mendon.
Just days before the special town meeting - and after many months of stalled negotiations - the Grafton and Upton Railroad purchased the property from its previous owner.
Then, just days after the special town meeting, GURR started clearing trees on the land, prompting the town to file an injunction with the Land Court which is when the mediation screening was ordered. The screening took place on Jan. 8.
According to the website for REBA Dispute Resolution, Inc., a subsidiary of the Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts, Inc. (www.disputeresolution.net), which is handling the mediation screening - this first step was merely to determine if mediation would be appropriate for the case. Both parties summarized their case before the screener who then determined if the case was appropriate for mediation and informed the Land Court accordingly.
Both parties were to provide to the Land Court a written update on the mediation process, and any further development on the property, on January 25, after this issue goes to press.