By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — A transportation project years in the making faces both a milestone and a roadblock.
A railroad preservation group has nearly finished its work on the Salem portion of the rail trail, removing 19th-century rails and railroad ties to make way for a paved path for bicyclists and walkers.
Since Aug. 26, Iron Horse Preservation Society of Nevada has been laying a preliminary coat of recycled asphalt, or “regrind,” along the trail and expects to be done its work by the end of the week, according to project supervisor Ryan Hatrrup.
But local residents are complaining to town officials about the huge stacks of ties sitting along Route 28, saying they are unattractive and must be removed.
Those critics include Selectman Stephen Campbell, who says Iron Horse and project representatives have reneged on their deal.
“It is just an eyesore,” Campbell said yesterday. “You make a deal, you follow through with it. Your word is supposed to mean something.”
Campbell complained about the ties to fellow selectmen and Town Manager Keith Hickey at the board’s meeting last week. He was assured by Selectman Patrick Hargreaves, who consulted with project organizers, that the ties would be removed soon — at no cost to the town.
The entire project is being funded through donations and grants at no cost to Salem taxpayers, according to David Topham, co-chairman of The Friends of the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor.
Iron Horse is doing more than $100,000 worth of work, Topham said, disposing of the old chemical-covered ties and selling the track to help restore historic railroads.
Topham expressed frustration yesterday with Campbell and other town residents, who have complained about the three piles of ties visible along Route 28. They were removed from a 2.8-mile section of the trail.
One of the piles sits at an old entrance to Rockingham Park racetrack. A fourth pile along the heavily traveled route, created last fall, has been moved out of sight, Topham said.
“They are not hindering anything,” he said. “They are being disposed of as part of the deal.”
Iron Horse started removing rail and ties in October, but had to stop during the winter. The work resumed in June, shortly before project representatives met with selectmen to assure them the project was on the right track.
“The excuse was it was winter and (the ties) would be gone by spring,” Campbell said. “Then, they were going to be gone this summer.”
Topham said the 5.1 miles of the trail through Salem will be well worth the wait once the project is complete. The trail, planned for more than a decade, will be paved next fall, he said.
He questioned why there were few, if any complaints, when the state Department of Transportation left debris along Route 28 when it completed a road project several years ago.
Iron Horse is also doing work in Londonderry, Hattrup said. The 115-mile Granite State Rail Trail will extend from northern Massachusetts to near the Vermont border, including Windham and Derry.
Campbell said he’s fielded a few complaints from residents. Hickey said the Town Hall staff has received several complaints, too.
Topham said Iron Horse has had to find a new disposal site after one in Pennsylvania closed.
The nonprofit organization is now negotiating a deal with an energy plant in Rumford, Maine,Topham said. He expects that deal to be finalized soon and the ties removed.
Although the completion of Iron Horse’s removal of ties and rails is a major accomplishment, Topham said the project and fundraising remain a work in progress.
The Friends of the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor received approximately $130,000, not including pledges, since June 1 as it strives for its fundraising goal of $170,000, Topham said. The $170,000 is needed to qualify for federal grant money.