Stony Brook sanctuary in Norfolk opens new boardwalk

By Judee Consentino; August 27, 2017; Sun Chronicle

NORFOLK — After half a million dollars and a mere three months of construction, the new boardwalk at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary officially opened to the public on Saturday.

More than 50 people showed up for the opening ceremony at 11 a.m. The boardwalk was built by Coastal Marine Contractors, which is based in Canton.

While the state granted permission for people to walk on the 525-foot boardwalk on Aug. 7, sanctuary director Doug Williams knew there had to be some special, official celebration.

Williams could barely contain his excitement as the ribbon was cut by 7-year-old Nathan Marcogliese of Bellingham, and those at the ceremony were clearly eager to walk along the boardwalk and take in the views of the refuge.

Fortunately, nature did not disappoint. A snapping turtle could be seen swimming around, painted turtles were sunning themselves, a school of fish swam by, and a Canada goose taking off in flight startled a blue heron.

Also in attendance were Karl Pastore from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation; Stephen Hutchinson from Mass Audubon, and Scott Skuncik, the senior project manager with CLE Engineering.

“I think it’s gorgeous,” Pastore said. “It fits right in. It’s beautiful.”

It was in March of 2016 when DCR was asked by the sanctuary to take a look at the original, ailing boardwalk. According to Williams, the inspector was so alarmed at its decrepit condition that he ordered it closed immediately.

However, members of the Mass Audubon Society and the general public, who enjoyed their walks on the bridge through the preserve, made it known that a new boardwalk was needed, and soon.

State Representative Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, had also voiced his concerns.

In spite of deferred maintenance issues, work on the new boardwalk moved along quickly. It is 18-inches higher than the old boardwalk, which enhances the view.

Reb and Peg Butler of Hopedale came with a camera and binoculars to take in the sights.

“It’s beautiful. We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Reb Butler said.

Many of those in attendance complimented Skuncik, Pastore and Williams.

“It’s a really nice improvement,” said Janet Jordan of North Attleboro. “You can observe most of the ponds, and it gives you a peaceful feeling.”

 

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Plainville digs in on new town hall, public safety complex

By Heather McCarron; August 9,2017; Country Gazette

PLAINVILLE — ThereAR-170807821 was a lot of dirt slinging going on among town and state officials Monday, and they couldn’t have been happier about it.

It was all part of the official groundbreaking for the town’s new town hall and public safety facility at the old Wood School site on South Street/Rte. 1A, where much of the once verdant lawn late last week was turned over to dirt in preparation for the project.

A crowd of current and past town officials, police and fire personnel, as well as state officials and residents gathered at the site next to the town library for the occasion, many taking shelter from a pattering rain under tents while speeches were made ahead of putting the ceremonial shovels to the ceremonial pile of earth.

The mood was one of excitement for the much-anticipated project, which has been on the town’s blue sky list for many years.

“Today is a milestone moment in Plainville’s history, not just because we will be getting a shiny new bauble, but because we will now have a central hub that will bind our residents together, making us a stronger community,” said Selectman Rob Rose.

Rose credited voters for putting “the final piece of the puzzle” in place by approving borrowing for the buildings at the June Town Meeting.

“Before that clinching event, there were a number of obstacles that were thrown in our path, critical moments when circumstances could have derailed our efforts,” Rose said. “Personally, I didn’t believe I would see this day in my lifetime. But Plainville’s citizens and leaders took the right course.”

Plans call for a new 21,350-square-foot town hall to replace the current facility — a former firehouse built in 1938 with only 5,000 square feet of space available. Town officials have long lamented the cramped space, which makes it difficult to conduct the business of a town in the 21st century. The new facility, which will occupy the front part of the old Wood School site, will have larger offices for the various town departments and ample public meeting space. The new public safety building will occupy the back of the site where the school building now stands, offering 43,527 square feet for police, fire and dispatch.

The general contract for the project, budgeted at $27 million, was recently awarded to CTA Construction of Waltham. Some of the funding for the project is coming from the capital improvement fund the town created to hold fees collected from Plainridge Park Casino.

While briefly recounting the potential pitfalls for the project, Rose noted that it would not have become a reality had voters not approved the host community agreement with Plainridge’s parent company, Penn National, back in 2013. He said voters’ “foresight in looking to the future and what it would bring was dead solid perfect.”

The dream of a new municipal complex came another step closer when Town Meeting later voted to establish the Host Community Stabilization Fund, which “allowed us to squirrel away the Plainridge funds so that they can be used for capital projects like this one that will endure and benefit future generations,” Rose said.

At the groundbreaking, Commissioner Gayle Cameron of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission congratulated the town on its upcoming new municipal complex, and said she is impressed with the foresight and planning that went into it.

“I’m so glad to see that Plainville is putting the host community agreement funds to such good use,” she said, going on to note “that’s exactly what those funds were designated to do.”

Selectman Matt Kavanah recognized the many people who were involved in making the project happen.

“A lot of people spent countless hours and labored… to bring this day to fruition,” he said, going on to add, “we’re building something great for the future.”

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, called the upcoming municipal complex a true centerpiece for the town. With that in the works, and other pieces already in place — including the casino, and the Unlikely Story Bookstore and Cafe downtown, he said, “this town is up and coming, and coming fast.” He offered congratulations to the town both from himself and from state Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, who was unable to attend the groundbreaking.

Selectman George Sutherland told those gathered that there were plenty of times he didn’t think a new town hall and public safety building would happen.

“But thanks to the citizens of this town, 9,000 strong, we made it happen,” he said. “It’s now the bookend to the renaissance of our downtown.”

Sutherland recounted how he and his wife would watch their kids walking home from school across the street when the old Wood School was still in operation years ago.

“Now when this is done she is going to be able to see me walk home from selectmen’s meetings,” he quipped.

Besides some tree clearing and turning over the old school’s lawn, site work so far has primarily included hazmat abatement in the former school building, according to site supervisor Chris Dennis. Some of the larger trees, marked with orange tape, will remain in place. Demolition of the old school is expected to begin in the next three to six weeks to make way for the public safety facility, and work on the town hall foundation will begin at the front of the site.

The target date for completion of the project is November 2018.

 

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Could you pass a U.S. citizenship test?

By Gerry Tuoti; August 18, 2017; Milford Daily News

Recent studies show many Americans would struggle to pass a U.S. citizenship test, an exam that many states are adopting as a high school graduation requirement.

Civics in the classroom

High school students in 23 states need to pass a civics test before graduating, and there’s a proposal to bring the same requirement to Massachusetts.

The Civics Education Initiative, a project of the Arizona-based nonprofit Joe Foss Institute, calls for high schools to require that students pass a test on 100 basic facts of U.S. history and civics taken directly from the United States Citizenship Civics Test, the exam that immigrants must pass when applying for American citizenship.

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, has sponsored legislation that would see Massachusetts adopt the initiative.

“It’s mind-boggling that people know 1,000 times more about Kim Kardashian than about their senator, congressman, president or any elected official,” Dooley said.

“As I’m talking to people, I find so many people don’t understand the way government works, how taxes work and how our basic foundations work. Not having civics in the classroom has done a disservice to the nation.”

Civics knowledge lacking

In a June survey that included questions such as “Who is the commander in chief of the U.S. military?” and “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?” nearly one in three respondents failed to pass, according to data research firm VIGA. The survey included questions similar to those found on the United States Citizenship Civics Test.

To pass, respondents had to answer at least six of 10 questions correctly. Among 2,000 respondents, 69 percent passed.

Naturalized citizens pass at higher rates

Immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship typically fare much better on their exams. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the United States Citizenship Civics Test has a pass rate of 91 percent.

Massachusetts above average

Massachusetts residents’ knowledge of civics ranked 17th in the survey, with an average score of 7.1 out of 10. In terms of pass rate, Massachusetts ranked 12th, with more than 75 percent getting at least 6 correct answers out of 10

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Baker-Polito Administration, Mass Audubon Announce the Re-Opening of Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary Boardwalk

From the Department of Conservation and Recreation;  August 16, 2017

NORFOLK — The Baker-Polito Administration and Mass Audubon today announced the re-opening of the new boardwalk located at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in the Town of Norfolk, and will host a special celebration and ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday, August 26, 2017, at 11:00AM. The event, which will take place on the new boardwalk and will feature remarks by state and local officials and representatives from Mass Audubon, is expected to attract sanctuary visitors, birders, and other nature lovers.

“For over 100 years, Massachusetts has led the nation in conserving and protecting important natural resources, while also increasing access for people of all abilities to benefit from,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “By investing over $500,000 to construct the new Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary boardwalk, this important facility will enable the public to visit, explore, and learn from our natural surroundings.”

Mass Audubon manages the adjoining Bristol-Blake Reservation through an agreement with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). DCR managed the reconstruction of the boardwalk, which was designed to reduce stress on the surrounding wetlands by utilizing pilings with smaller but stronger anchors. Moreover, the new boardwalk also sits higher above the water line, thus further protecting the aquatic habitat, while also offering an elevated vantage point for visitors.

“The Department of Conservation and Recreation clearly made this capital project a priority, and all who will once again explore the beautiful wetland it passes through are the beneficiaries,” said Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton. “Mass Audubon values its long relationship with the DCR and other state environmental agencies, and the boardwalk project is another great example of this partnership at its very best.”

For more than 40 years, the boardwalk has enabled visitors to enjoy the property’s expansive wetland habitat and observe birds and other wildlife it supports. Although the boardwalk had undergone a major overhaul in 2010, years of gradual deterioration, compounded by long-term impacts from the aquatic environment and seasonal weather, such as snow and ice, forced its closure in March of 2016. The Baker-Polito Administration invested $579,168 to completely rebuild the boardwalk.

“DCR values its strong partnership with Mass Audubon here, and at other State Reservations, and this project ensures that visitors to the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary receive an excellent outdoor recreation experience,” said DCR Commissioner Leo Roy. “The Baker-Polito Administration seeks to encourage children and their families to get outside and visit the Massachusetts state parks system, which offers a wealth of natural, cultural, and recreational resources, like the newly constructed boardwalk, for all to enjoy.”

The 525-foot long boardwalk provides accessible and expansive views over Kingfisher Pond and Teal Marsh following the same popular footprint visitors have come to appreciate through the years. In addition, completion of the boardwalk once again allows access to a section of the post-and-rope Sensory Trail that was inaccessible when the boardwalk was closed. Other Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary highlights, include:

  • A nature play area that features unique structures for climbing, hiding, and free play;
  • A native butterfly garden that surrounds the Nature Center;
  • Natural history exhibits;
  • Programming space; and,
  • A gift shop with nature-oriented items.

“Stony Brook has been a valued staple in Norfolk for many years,” said State Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk). “I was proud to work alongside DCR, Mass Audubon, and the Baker-Polito Administration at large to ensure that we are able to continue to provide residents of our community a fun, safe, and tranquil environment to enjoy the natural beauty that our area has to offer. I thank everyone who played a role in making this project happen.”

“The Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary is a true treasure in the Norfolk community,” said State Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham). “It is vital for the state to continue conserving and protecting natural resources while enabling the public to enjoy all that sanctuary land has to offer. I appreciate the Baker-Polito administration, DCR and Mass Audubon for their efforts to see the rebuilding of the sanctuary’s boardwalk become reality.”

Please visit Mass Audubon’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary webpage, where visitors can find hours of operations, admission fees, and other information regarding the sanctuary.

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Robert Kraft Lands OK for Foxboro T Service

By Matt Stout; Tuesday August 15th, 2017; Boston Herald

(020117 Houston, TX) Robert Kraft arrives before  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference at the Media Center in Houston on Wednesday, February 1, 2017.  Staff Photo by Nancy Lane

(020117 Houston, TX) Robert Kraft arrives before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference at the Media Center in Houston on Wednesday, February 1, 2017. Staff Photo by Nancy Lane

The MBTA-approved pilot program to run daily commuter trains to Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium has sparked outrage from lawmakers and transit advocates, who say the $1.2 million plan is a sweetheart deal for project sponsor Robert Kraft at the expense of taxpayers and urban riders.

“They are all-star, hall-of-fame caliber when it comes to screwing things up,” state Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) said of the MBTA. “The fact that they’re willing to sacrifice more taxpayer dollars to make their argument (for this pilot) possibly work is beyond me. It just shows a total disregard for the public trust.

“This is the Fiscal & Management Control Board, first word being fiscal,” Dooley said of the T board that yesterday approved the project on a 4-1 vote. “That should be their priority. Their priority was Bob Kraft.”

The one-year expansion pilot, which is slated to start in spring 2019 and cost the T $524,000, has been pitched by the Baker administration as an economic development engine and, thanks to 500 parking spots at Gillette, a fix for a dearth of commuter parking in the area.

The Kraft Group, headed by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, is contributing $217,000 toward the project, and board officials included a provision that the project’s sponsors share in any unforeseen cost overruns.

But the pilot has drawn widespread criticism from public advocates as well, who say the area is already well-served by other rail stations. They also fear riders on the Boston-based Fairmount line will be crowded out by new suburban commuters who’ll board the train on the route first.

“That means the folks riding from Foxboro will be sitting and the folks getting on board on the Fairmount Line will be standing,” said Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation. “And if you know the demographics, that means that most white people coming from Foxboro will be sitting while black people will be standing, which is a terrible image.”

A Kraft Group spokesman declined to address specific questions, but said in a statement that the pilot has the potential to spur new development and thousands of jobs.

“There is tremendous opportunity and widespread support for establishing weekday commuter rail service to Foxboro,” the statement said.

T officials say the plan to extend eight Fairmount trains, as well as one Franklin Line train, to Foxboro “would not alter or compromise” existing service on the line, pointing to data that none of the trains fills up more than 38 percent of its available seats.

But they acknowledge the data dates to 2012, and advocates say the Fairmount Line is building popularity.

Mela Miles of the Fairmount/Indigo Transit Coalition slammed the plan as another example of the T’s “broken commitment to the communities along the Fairmount Line.”

“It’s disgusting,” Miles said. “(This line) is a lifeline to our community and we use it to get around where we need to go within the line itself.”

Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, defended the project as a “good pilot,” saying it will allow the T to test demand, particularly for workers looking for a reverse commute from Boston to businesses in Foxboro, who she said have called for more transit options to attract talent.

But Pollack acknowledged that the T doesn’t have any data to measure how many riders would use it for a reverse commute. T officials also say limited space at South Station doesn’t allow them to add more peak trains, if necessary.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, the lone board member to vote against the pilot, said she doesn’t want it to be a “detriment” to the panel’s long-held mandate to improve existing services.

“I just don’t think this project makes a lot of sense,” she said.

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MBTA Approves Foxboro Commuter Rail Pilot

BOSTON—At their monthly meeting on Monday, the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board (FMCB) approved the Foxboro Commuter Rail Pilot Program in a 4-1 vote. The program will be allowed to move forward as long as nine caveats are met:

  • The Pilot will begin with the Spring service schedule adjustment in 2019 (approximately April/May 2019)
  • The Pilot will last 11.5 months, unless otherwise extended or cancelled by the board
  • Monthly updates on ridership and success of the pilot will be reported to the board
  • The capacity of Fairmount line trains will be monitored
  • If costs of the project exceed the projected costs, the difference will be shared between the public and private players of the project
  • All railroad crossings must be upgraded to meet current standards and must be completed by the start of service
  • A fixed price contract to operate the line must be in place with Keolis by February 1, 2018
  • A 12 month passenger count at each station expected to lose ridership due to this pilot must be completed
  • A fare discount for reverse commuters must be studied by the start of service on this line

The meeting grew tense at times with board members questioning proponents of the plan on the data used to model projected ridership; however, the board ultimately saw the proposed pilot as a good way to study various hypotheses on reverse commuting in the Greater Boston Area.

At the board’s July 31st meeting State Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) presented a letter of opposition from a coalition of area legislators including State Senator Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury), State Representative John Rogers (D-Norwood), State Representative Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton), State Representative Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham), State Representative Angelo Scaccia (D-Readville), and State Representative Evandro C. Carvalho (D-Dorchester). The legislators cited the proximity of Norfolk, Walpole, Sharon, and Mansfield stations as well as a minimal projected increase of 100-150 riders as clear signs that this project will be a drain on taxpayer funds and a disruption to current commuter rail riders.

Shortly after the meeting, Dooley expressed his disappointment with the board. “Today we all witnessed yet another example of the MBTA choosing to side with a wealthy few over the fiscal security of our Commonwealth and the concerns of those affected by this line. Residents of my district and beyond have over and over again voiced their opposition to this project, yet today the board dedicated exactly zero minutes to their concerns. Instead of siding with those who currently rely on the commuter rail and those who will have to bear the costs of train service running through their backyards, the board opted to be allured by the false hope and promise that a couple mile extension of an existing commuter rail line will spur unprecedented economic growth.”

Dooley also commented that he was disturbed by the board’s secrecy around this project. “It is tradition at these meetings to allow public comment; however, the board today disallowed it knowing that my constituents and I would be there to stand in opposition. I was promised on multiple occasions that this meeting would only be for further discussion and no vote would be taken, yet the board decided to vote on this important project while all those affected were at work unaware of the proceedings.”

The board also introduced the idea of a “reverse commute fare discount” to make fares cheaper for those having to commute all the way to Foxboro, asking for it to be studied in more detail leading up to the start of the service on the Foxboro pilot. Dooley argues that this is simply a way for the MBTA to make the numbers work. “No one else in the entire State would get this discount, only a select few riders. The harsh reality is no one wants to commute from Boston to Foxboro and then board a shuttle bus to get to work every day. I find it infuriating that the MBTA would attempt to rig their results by reducing the reverse commute fare in an attempt to make their bogus predictions become a reality.  I guess the FMCB forgot that the F in their name stands for fiscal – and that they are charged with reducing waste and are beholden to the taxpayers of Massachusetts, not the special interests of an elite few.”

Despite the setback Dooley has no plans to stop fighting “As long as I am in office, I will have my constituents’ backs and will continue to fight against this pilot in any way I can.”

 

 

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Norfolk Rep Leads Fight Against MBTA Expansion

BOSTON—Led by State Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk), protestors turned out to the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) meeting on Monday to fight against the MBTA’s proposed expansion to Foxboro. At the hearing the newly proposed Foxboro pilot was discussed, meeting much opposition from residents, state, and town officials Protest 1alike.

The new commuter rail line, spearheaded by New England Patriots owner and business mogul Bob Kraft, was first proposed under Governor Deval Patrick; but was later nixed by Governor Charlie Baker in an effort to focus on fixing the broken transit system. Despite this, plans for this new line have recently resurfaced and according to Dooley have gained considerable momentum, which he is working hard to stop.

At the hearing, Dooley presented to the board a letter written from a broad coalition of area legislators that oppose this new expansion, fearing the ill effects of the expansion on their constituents. In addition to Dooley, those in opposition include State Senator Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury), State Representative John Rogers (D-Norwood), State Representative Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton), State Representative Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham), State Representative Angelo Scaccia (D-Readville), and State Representative Evandro C. Carvalho (D-Dorchester). Together, this coalition covers almost the entire affected area of the Franklin and Fairmount lines in a wide swath all the way from Walpole to Dorchester and beyond.

In their letter, the legislators cited the often-mentioned operational shortcomings of the MBTA in questioning the fiscal savviness of this plan, “Not only will the residents of the Fairmount and Franklin lines bear the brunt of this folly, but so will all the taxpayers of Massachusetts. This ‘pilot’ will cost tens of millions of our dollars and will lose millions more each year operating this one stop. These monies should be going to help our schools and our communities – or in the very least, fixing all the broken infrastructure at the MBTA.”

Beyond the burdensome fiscal measures involved, Dooley and the other legislators have also called into question the necessity of the line. The proposed Foxboro stop at Gillette Stadium is barely located in Foxboro and lays only steps from the Walpole and Norfolk town lines; Two towns with existing commuter rail stops only 2-3 miles from the border of Foxboro. Foxboro residents also have easy access to the Providence line with Mansfield station situated under a mile beyond Foxboro’s southern border, and Sharon station just 3 miles from the northeFoxboro Mapsrn border. Because of this, the MBTA estimates that the addition of this one stop will only add a minuscule 100-150 new riders.

In the letter Dooley and the other legislators argue “Economic development and reverse commuting have been touted as the predominant reasons for this expansion. While this is the usual ‘go to’ argument for these expansions, this does not reflect reality. Not only does the expected increase in ridership not support this, but one only needs to look at the Greenbush line and contrast all the projections and promises with the 10 years of mere nominal results we have experienced. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is: who would reverse commute from Boston to Foxboro? It would cost more money, give them less flexibility, be a longer commute, and require over a half mile walk to the nearest ‘proposed’ business site along a state highway: a disincentive even in the best of weather.”

Dooley himself has taken an even harsher stance on this expansion than the letter might suggest. Dooley notes that this proposed Foxboro line “Creates the opportunity for many more trains to break down each day. Many of my constituents rely on the Franklin line, which is always ranked amongst the worst lines for timeliness, to get in and out of the city each day. Adding in this excessive amount of train traffic only increases the likelihood that they won’t be able to get where they need to in a consistently timely manner.”

Dooley has also warned MassDOT repeatedly about the common misconception that the negative impacts of this line are only limited to the residents in his district who live on the proposed railway. The proposed pilot will use the Fairmount line’s trains, but will bypass all other Franklin Line stops on the way to Gillette Stadium . In Dooley’s words “The people of Fairmount rely on this line, now they will be beholden to the track issues and delays that will accompany this increase of traffic on the line. This sends the message to Fairmount riders that a select few rich people in the suburbs who decide on a whim whether they take one of their multiple cars, telecommute, or take the T get priority seating in the morning over the hard working people of their neighborhoods.”

Dooley’s argument appears to be on sound footing as the Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition, a group dedicated to strengthening the communities surrounding the Fairmount Line, showed in full force at the hearing to fight what they see as a hijacking of their train line for the needs of a select few people. Led by Mela Miles, several members of the coalition gave impassioned testimony to the fact that they worked for years to get the Fairmount Line running, and in one swoop, without consultation, the MBTA is seeking to shift the entire purpose of the line. Representative Carvalho even pointed out that he and Representative Dooley almost never agree on anything, but even they both agree on the shortcomings of this plan. Perhaps the most tense moment of the day came when Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation pointed out the poor optics of this plan to the FMCB “The plan is to fill the trains in Foxboro, a predominantly white area; so by the time the train gets to the areas currently serviced by the Fairmount line those people, a majority of whom are African American, will be forced to stand. That just doesn’t look good for the MBTA.”

Dooley has no plans to stop fighting against this expansion that he calls “a boondoggle for the rich to get richer at the expense of the taxpayers.” In Dooley’s words “Those affected by this unnecessary, unwise, and uncalled for expansion of the commuter rail can count on me fighting for their best interests each tie at a time.”

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