By Alex Lippa
---- — PLAISTOW — Residents will get their chance to voice their opinions before a pricey commuter rail study kicks off later this year.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation and HDR Engineering will hold a listening session on Aug. 22 at Plaistow Town Hall to hear people’s thoughts on the benefits and concerns of extending the commuter rail from Haverhill to Plaistow.
“It’s important to hear from the taxpayers in the area about what they want to see out of the study,” said Mark Sanborn, federal liaison for DOT.
The $659,000 study was authorized by DOT to examine locations for a potential train station and layover facility in Plaistow. The study is funded through a grant, approved through federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds.
“We have to know the facts before we can make an informed decision,” Selectman Daniel Poliquin said.
The study will explore possible sites, design concepts and analyze impacts on the community.
The session will give opponents of the study a chance to voice their concerns. In a nonbinding referendum in 2012, residents overwhelmingly rejected a layover station in Plaistow, 619-308.
Audrey Peck, a Plaistow resident who led the opposition, said she would be submitting questions regarding the study to state.
“I just think it’s an outrageous amount of money to do this survey,” she said. “It seems to me like they are putting the cart before the horse.”
Another interested party in the session is the town of Atkinson. Conditions were agreed upon between Atkinson and Plaistow that the Westville Homes site on the towns’ border cannot be studied.
“We have a seat at the table and we are glad we are able to participate and add comments to the process,” Atkinson Town Administrator William Innes said.
He said he was neutral on the idea of a train station in Plaistow, but was skeptical of the benefits.
“The park-and-ride lot already isn’t fully utilized,” he said. “But we are supportive with Plaistow in whatever they want to do, as long as there isn’t a layover station in Atkinson.”
The listening session is intended for Plaistow and Atkinson residents, but Poliquin said only Plaistow’s residents should be heard from.
“It’s time for Atkinson residents to stop taking over our meetings and let Plaistow residents have their say,” Poliquin said. “They’ve had their say of what they want to see studied.”
Sanborn said public outreach is a requirement when using federal funds. He said DOT would give a brief overview of the process at the beginning of the meeting and then the meeting would be all about hearing from the public.
“This will be constructive to our process,” he said. “We want to hear what they’d like to see done.”
Peck said she hopes that this will be the first of several sessions during the course of the study.
“Ideally, this will be a regular occurrence,” she said. “I’m pleased that they are doing this. I just hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears.”
The feasibility study is scheduled to begin later this year and expected to take about 18 months to complete.