Salem wants 6,000 railroad ties out of town

Railroad ties are stacked up along the rail trail near the Hampshire Road intersection in Salem. The town is fighting a legal battle to have them removed. 

STAFF FILE PHOTO

SALEM — Frustration is mounting as the town fights for the removal of about 6,000 railroad ties left on roadsides for three years.

Salem residents and officials have vented their displeasure with the unsightly piles of ties left around town, including Route 28, by the Iron Horse Preservation Society.

The town filed a lawsuit last fall in Rockingham Superior Court against the group of railroad enthusiasts. They agreed to pull up and dispose of the old ties from the former Boston & Maine railbed in exchange for selling the recycled steel rails that also were removed.

Selectmen continued to voice their irritation with the preservation group at their meeting earlier this week while setting their goals for the upcoming year.

Selectman Patrick Hargreaves asked that getting the railroad ties out of town be a primary goal.

Hargreaves and other selectmen have said they are tired of hearing complaints from residents who say the ties are an eyesore.

“It’s something very dear to us all up here,” Hargreaves told his colleagues. “I want to see the railroad ties gone somewhere. They have been over there for three years; we need to move them.”

Fellow board members agreed, but rejected Hargreaves’ suggestion they just be moved out of sight. Hargreaves recommended relocating the creosote-soaked ties to the Department of Public Works yard.

“They just can’t be put somewhere where they can’t be seen,” Selectman Stephen Campbell said. “It has to be resolved.”

Hargreaves said he remained frustrated with the ties and Iron Horse when reached Thursday.

“I hear from residents who are sick and tired of seeing them on the side of the road,” Hargreaves said. “They don’t care how we get rid of them.”

But the town is waiting to hear the outcome of the lawsuit. A hearing in the case was held March 24 and a ruling by Judge David Anderson is expected any day, according to Assistant Town Manager Leon Goodwin.

The town asks that Iron Horse, a Nevada-based nonprofit organization, and its chief operations officer Joseph Hattrup live up to their agreement to remove the ties, Goodwin said.

Salem isn’t seeking damages or even reimbursement of legal costs, Goodwin said.

“We just want him to perform on his contract,” he said.

Goodwin said some residents have called Town Hall to ask if they can have some of the ties to landscape their yards, but he said it’s “an all or nothing” proposition.

“If there is a taker for all of them, certainly we would entertain that,” Goodwin said.

Town Manager Keith Hickey has said the town would not burden taxpayers by forcing them to pay thousands of dollars to hire a company to move and dispose of the ties.

Hattrup has told the town several times in the past he would move the ties, but failed to do so, citing financial difficulties.

On Thursday, Hattrup said he hopes to move the ties after May 1, when he receives money from other projects. He said it would cost about $28,000 to deal with the problem.

The ties would have been moved a few years ago if not for the negative publicity he received from his experience in Salem, Hattrup said. It cost him a contract in Maine that would have funded the removal, he said.

“They can’t beat me up enough in Salem,” he said. “I would have done it already if I had the funds to do it.”

He said Iron Horse performed about $180,000 worth of work for the town at no cost when it removed the ties and paved some of the rail trail.

Goodwin said construction of the 5.1-mile rail trail through Salem is expected to begin later this spring, pending approval from the state Department of Transportation so the work can go out to bid.

The work is scheduled to be complete by fall, Goodwin said.

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