Bellows Falls train station request scaled back
BELLOWS FALLS — Rockingham voters will be asked to spend $12,000 toward evaluating the historic Bellows Falls train station, now owned by Vermont Rail System, with an eye toward its eventual purchase.
Gary Fox, the town's development director, said the money would allow the town to fully evaluate the building and any potential liabilities or problems.
The station had an asbestos problem documented in 2002, Fox said.
The train station purchase would not include the land under it, Fox told the Rockingham Select Board Tuesday evening, and thus the town would be protected from any potential liability associated with the land, which is suspected to be contaminated.
Fox said he is reducing his original request of $120,000 because of concerns about increasing the Rockingham town budget. He also said he is dropping a similar request for funding to do some emergency repairs to the town-owned TLR mill building.
Fox said Vermont Rail System would "never" make the repairs to the train station, and by having the station in town hands, the town could send a signal to federal grant agencies that it is serious about maintaining a transit station in the center of Bellows Falls village.
The train station funding request will be a separate article on the 2020 Town Meeting warning. Fox originally discussed asking voters for $120,000 to purchase the station outright.
Select Board member Stefan Golec chastised Fox for what he called "an 11th hour" request.
And, he said, Vermont Rail System and the state of Vermont should be making the repairs to the train station, not the town.
"Just make the railroad fix it," Golec said.
"They're not going to do that," said Fox.
The rail station, which was built in 1922-23, replaced the original 1852 station which burned in 1921. The current station is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fox said that if the town isn't interested in the train station project, the Bellows Falls Area Development Corp. would step in.
"BFADC has offered to do the work for public transit," said Fox, who is also the executive director of the regional development group.
"The purpose," Fox said, "is to support public transit. BFADC will take on this project if the town won't," he said.
The long-term goal, in addition to renovating the historic train station, is to attract a tenant to put either a cafe or brew pub in the building.
Fox said that ridership on the Amtrak Vermonter is strong and growing stronger, and that the state of Vermont subsidizes the passenger train heavily.
Golec said he felt the state is putting its rail investment on the western side of the state, but Fox said that is because the eastern side rails have already been upgraded at a cost of $12 million, and now the state is turning its attention westward.
Fox said Vermont Railway originally asked for $248,000 for the building, but that the company is not open to selling it for its commercial appraised value, which Fox said is likely to be less than $100,000.
Vermont Railway currently doesn't pay taxes on the building.
Fox said once the town is able to renovate the train station with federal grants, the town shouldn't have any trouble attracting either a new owner or a strong tenant.
Contact Susan Smallheer at email@example.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.
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