Superior Court judge orders local railroad to temporarily keep hands off protected land
HOPEDALE — A Superior Court judge has issued an injunction ordering the Grafton and Upton Railroad to stop cutting trees in a wooded area off West Street while pending motions regarding a lawsuit filed by residents are being processed.
The ruling means that any tree-cutting, road building or other work must halt until the Superior Court decides on the pending motions, said attorney David Lurie, of Boston-based Lurie Friedman LLP, who represents a group of residents that wants the town to acquire all of the disputed land off West Street.
The injunction was appealed on Monday by the railroad to a single justice of the Appeals Court. If the justice keeps it in place, it will last until the Superior Court decides the pending motions before it regarding the merits of the case, which likely will be decided within the next 30-45 days, according to Lurie.
Lurie said residents are hopeful the Superior Court will soon decide to continue the injunction after making a final decision on the merits of the case.
“We are gratified that the court has preserved the forestland for the meanwhile; that’s clearly the right result,” said Lurie. “However, 11 town residents shouldn’t have had to seek this injunction; the Select Board should have sought it. I hope this decision is a wake-up call for them. It’s long past time for them to step up, do their jobs, and make sure that all 130 acres remain preserved, as per the Town Meeting unanimous vote.”
The residents represented by Lurie filed suit in Worcester Superior Court earlier this year after the Hopedale Select Board signed an agreement with the railroad to split about 155 acres of forest and wetlands off West Street.
The town had been in court with the railroad prior to signing the agreement, with both parties trying to acquire all of the land, which was owned by a Lincoln-based trust. Railroad representatives said the company needed the land for expansion; the town argued it needed it to protect its drinking water.
The lawsuit by residents argues the Select Board should have acquired all the land, in line with a directive from a Town Meeting vote the previous fall. The group also secured an injunction, which would stop the town from paying the railroad for the land — therefore putting the deal on hold while the case plays out in court.
Michael Milanoski, president of Grafton and Upton Railroad, said his side was disappointed in the judge’s recent decision but hopes its appeal is heard quickly. Over the next month, railroad officials plan to meet with Hopedale Town Administrator Diana Schindler to discuss the road layout options for the project, which they hope will bring $1 million in tax revenue to town and provide hundreds of jobs, said Milanoski — all while protecting surrounding natural resources.
On Wednesday night, Milanoski gave a presentation to the Select Board on the other steps being taken moving forward amid the ongoing lawsuit. No action was taken at the time. The railroad is continuing to operate within the settlement agreement negotiated back in January and February, said Milanoski, and is confident that any challenges to that agreement will be rejected.
The settlement also has a severability clause and as part of settlement, it was required that the railroad help the town finalize the survey and title work that the town will share proportionally with the railroad.
Earlier this month, residents succeeded in temporarily stopping the railroad to work in an area off West Street.
This was the first home in Hopedale on the site where the home that was long known as The Larches now stands. In 1909, it was purchased from George Otis Draper by his aunt, Hannah Osgood. Not long after she bought it, it burned down. The house that’s on the site now is what she had built to replace the original home. Click here to go to a page about it.