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Cost estimates for Trail to Train too high

AMENIA — The Amenia Town Board and the Trail to the Train Committee have disagreed on which landscape design and engineering firm to hire for its project extending the Harlem Valley Rail Trail south into the hamlet of Wassaic. But they both agree on one thing — initial cost estimates are too high.The project will extend six-tenths of a mile of Harlem Valley Rail Trail from its southern-most point at the Metro-North Wassaic station into the hamlet of Wassaic. In 2009 the town received a $480,000 federal grant (which the town must match with $120,000 for a total grant amount of $600,000) to move forward with the project. Because of the nature of the federal grant, the town has been working through a rigorous and detailed process of choosing a design and engineering firm. Although a contract has not yet been signed, the board chose WSP Sells over the committee’s recommendation of Mark Morrison & Associates. Morrison is a local resident and donated free time to the project previously.In a recently written statement addressed to the board on behalf of the Trail to the Train Committee, Chair Tonia Shoumatoff requested the board hold off signing a contract with WSP Sells until a number of the committee’s concerns are addressed.First, the committee wants confirmation in writing that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will commit to permitting the project as it encroaches on nearby wetlands. Next, the committee wants more information on the mitigation of any downstream flooding impact that may occur as a result of construction.The letter to the Town Board also says the design and construction estimated fees account for more than 36 percent of the entire construction fee, “triple the normal fees that are usually charged by the firms doing this kind of work.”Finally, the trail extension is proposed to run partially through private property, and the landowner, Wassaic Auction Barns, is concerned that the project will not be able to be completed due to cost overruns. The committee stated in its letter that the landowner is suggesting getting a second bid.Shoumatoff said WSP Sells provided the town with four alternative proposals, ranging in price from $1.9 million to $707,000, still more than $100,000 over the $600,000 grant.“The committee feels that other alternatives should be considered at this point,” the letter to the board states. “We have done our best to provide our sincere opinions to protect both the taxpayers of Amenia and ensure that this project gets completed to the satisfaction of all concerned.”Committee member Sharon Kroeger (the only committee member in attendance) expressed similar sentiments during the opening public comments period of the April 14 Town Board meeting.“Those among us who might step forward in order to work on fundraising in order to obtain the $120,000 matching funds on behalf of the town, cannot really do that if town leadership does not take the state Department of Transportations’ TEP grant cap seriously,” she read from a prepared statement. “There needs to be a solid financial situation where the town holds the line and only signs a contract for an authorized total expenditure of $600,000, $480,000 of which comes from the federal grant. “In that kind of legitimate context, private funding may be possible, but not if there is a ‘bottomless pit’ situation such as an open-ended contract where the town just gets billed for time and materials,” Kroeger added.Later in the board meeting, town Supervisor Wayne Euvrard said he would not sign anything without board approval and that there needed to be further negotiations with WSP Sells.“We have a budget that we’re going to stay with,” the supervisor emphasized.“What we’ve received is a draft that needs work,” elaborated Councilwoman Darlene Riemer. “There are discrepancies, and a lot of things that we need to negotiate and have questions answered. We want this to be right for the folks in Wassaic, and we’re not there yet.”Councilwoman Victoria Perotti said that the town would also be looking into additional funding sources.“We’ve only just started the process,” she said.

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