Tsongas, Rivera announce rail bed study

Posted: Saturday, March 28, 2015 12:15 am | By Keith Eddings keddings@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE – U.S. Rep Niki Tsongas and Mayor Daniel Rivera on Friday joined a top federal environmental official at abandoned rail bed beside a boarded-up factory to announce an effort to rebuild the crumbling industrial corridor along the rail.

“No one's really talked about this area in a long time,” Rivera said, standing atop a shifting sheet of plywood that had been placed over the rusted rail and muddy ruts, to announce a $200,000 study by the Environmental Protection Agency that will examine how the corridor can be cleaned up and restored. “Kids have grown up here decade after decade seeing the slow deterioration of this area. We hope this will begin that growth.”

Lawrence is one of 20 municipalities and development agencies nationwide to share $4 million that the EPA will provide this year to cleanup polluted sites – known as brownfields - and return them to use.

In Lawrence, the study is a second step in the effort to revitalize the mile-long rail corridor that runs from the Merrimack River to the Methuen line, which operated for 145 years as the Lawrence & Manchester spur of the Boston & Maine Railroad. Rivera took the first step last summer, when he asked the state Department of Transportation to give the railbed to the city so that it can be converted to a trail for hikers and bikers.

The EPA study will focus on ways to clean up the pollutants in the buildings and land beside the rail bed and return business and commerce to the strip.

The DOT took over of the corridor after the B&M Railroad ran its last train through the region in 1993.

Several businesses still operate along the Lawrence section of the rail line, including an iron works. But many of the buildings have been boarded up and forgotten, like the rail line itself, which over two decades has been walled off from the city by chain link fences, abandoned buildings and ragged rows of invasive weeds. In Methuen and Salem, N.H., the rail bed has been converted to a trail for hikers and bikers.

“The (EPA Brownfield Program) is made for neighborhoods like this one,” Nancy Barmakian, who directs EPA cleanup efforts nationwide, said before handing off an oversized replica of a $200,000 check to Rivera on Friday. “The Manchester-Lawrence rail line (is) burdened by multiple contaminations and development changes.”

“For us, it's exciting because maybe one day – maybe not me because I'm not really on my diet as much as I could be – but somebody will be biking on this path, or running, and connecting us with the rest of the trail,” Rivera said. “Right now, what people see everyday is just neglect.”