Newburyport celebrates newest rail trail stretch

·3 min read

Jun. 10—NEWBURYPORT — The city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday to mark the completion of the shoreline resiliency and Clipper City Rail Trail project, a major and visible stretch of the popular walking and biking path.

"This is so exciting," Mayor Donna Holaday said. "We have waited a long time for this section of the rail trail to open."

The city's senior project manager, Geordie Vining, has spent most of his 20-year tenure overseeing the design and construction of the rail trail.

The city purchased the shoreline property from the Boston & Maine Railroad and Guilford Transportation Industries about 15 years ago using Community Preservation Act funding.

From the design and engineering to fundraising and grant writing, the city has faced a lot of challenges over the years in completing sections of the rail trail.

This particular segment, located behind the city's wastewater treatment plant between Joppa Park and the American Yacht Club, has been especially complicated because of significant storm erosion along the Merrimack River and the presence of PCB-contaminated soil along the old railroad line.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are organic chlorine compounds known to cause cancer in animals and suspected to be human carcinogens. The city completed the removal of all PCB-contaminated soil last fall.

The city previously spent $36 million upgrading its wastewater treatment plant, "which was desperately needed," before realizing that it was vulnerable to storm surge and flooding, Holaday said.

"I think all of us would be pretty upset if we lost our sewer system in the city," she said.

As part of the shoreline resiliency project, which began in December, the city's contractor, George R. Cairns and Sons Inc., constructed a sloped stone revetment wall to stabilize roughly 900 feet of the Merrimack River shoreline.

The contractor also built an elevated berm behind the revetment — raising it well above the treatment plant — with a paved trail on top to complete that missing segment of the popular walking, running and biking path.

The city received a $1 million grant from the state's Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program, a $100,000 grant from the state MassTrails Grant Program and local match funding to complete this project.

The mayor recognized Vining for his major role in the completion of the rail trail.

She also asked his daughter Madelyn Vining, 19, to cut the ribbon Wednesday with Holaday recalling how the girl had held the big scissors for the unveiling of the rail trail stretch by Michael's Harborside 11 years ago.

State Rep. James Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, presented the mayor with a certificate of recognition for the completion of the rail trail, saying "This is a great addition to the city."

Representatives from National Grid, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, the Community Preservation Committee, the Parks Department, the Parks Commission, MassTrails, Coastal Trails Coalition, the Resiliency Committee, the Water and Sewer Commission and George R. Cairns and Sons Inc. also took part in the ceremony with the mayor thanking these many groups for making the project a reality.

Ward 5 Councilor James McCauley and Councilors at large Charles Tontar, Bruce Vogel, Barry Connell and Afroz Khan were among at least 100 people in attendance.

The Hot Tamale Brass Band of Boston led a parade of officials and residents along the waterfront trail from Joppa Park to the AYC after the speeches and ribbon cutting.