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Executive Council tables vote on 18-mile Milford to Bennington rail line

CONCORD ­- An 18-mile stretch of state-owned railroad track from Milford to Bennington has become such a political football that the Executive Council decided to table a vote on its future until all five councilors are present.

The council on Wednesday tabled a contract recommended by the Department of Transportation that would have granted rights on the track to the state's largest railroad operator, Pan Am Railways, citing the absence of District 3 Councilor Chris Sununu.

State Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough, whose Milford-Bennington Railroad has operated a freight train on the track for 20 years, said he will take advantage of the two-week delay to press his case.

Leishman's company has used the track to transport crushed stone from a Wilton quarry to the Granite State Concrete processing plant in Milford since the 1990s. But early last year, the state issued a request for proposals for subsidiary rights to the track.

Leishman submitted a bid, while also claiming the state had no rights to terminate his contract. He also submitted letters of support from his customer, Granite State Concrete; a potential customer, Monadnock Paper Mills; and a snowmobile club.

DOT Commissioner Christopher Clement told councilors that Leishman's bid was rejected because it was unresponsive to the request for proposals. "There were a number of missing elements," he said.

District 2 Councilor Colin Van Ostern agreed that Leishman's bid did not include items such as a maintenance plan, annualized financial statements, marketing and business plans, and resumes for all officers of the corporation.

He asked Clement if the department ever notified Leishman that the requested items were missing. "We were going through a bid process with the RFP providers," Clement said. "One was not responsive, so at that point we just moved on to the one bidder who provided the information that was asked for in the RFP."

The DOT commissioner said the bidding process was carefully monitored. "We had the Attorney General's office involved with this every step of the way," he said. "We wanted to make sure we were following protocol."

After the meeting, Leishman said he was surprised to learn the bid was considered defective. "The DOT has a huge file on us," he said, "and the documents requested are in that file. I would have provided them if someone had told me that was necessary. This is the first time I'm hearing about it."

Leishman said he would be glad to provide the documents now if the DOT is willing to reconsider his bid.

"This doesn't make any sense," he said. "The customer was very satisfied with our service. The paper mill has been very supportive. We thought our response to the RFP addressed all the questions raised. No one from the department ever reached out to us and said there's something missing."

The Peterborough state representative and Pan Am have been at odds over use of the track for years, with Leishman claiming he is the target of a vendetta by Pan Am owners.

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