LACONIA — The city has selected Alta Planning and Design as the consultant to examine the pros and cons of extending the WOW Trail next to the railroad tracks along Paugus Bay, or in place of those tracks.

The consultant, which has an office in Cambridge, has been given a contract authorizing a payment of $39,465, city purchasing specialist Jon Gardner said Monday.

The Winnisquam-Opechee-Winnipesaukee Trail currently stretches from the Belmont town line to the Lakeport area of Laconia, a distance of 2.5 miles.

Alta Planning will study the feasibility of extending the trail all the way from Franklin to Weirs Beach, including the controversial section along Paugus Bay.

Many residents there strongly object. They promise a court fight and contend that an extension would disrupt their privacy and lead to trespassing and other problems.

The idea of removing the tracks, which would make the trail easier and cheaper to build, is opposed by rail enthusiasts and by a freight train company and a tourist train operator that use the corridor. Also, it would require passage of a new state law. Present statutes dictate that rail takes precedence in such corridors.

Allan Beetle, president of the WOW Trail Committee, has said the study will help inform the discussion about a trail extension he’s convinced will be a valuable addition to the city and the region. He said the rail corridor is currently underutilized.

Alta Planning is to examine how much it would cost to complete the entire trail by building the path alongside the railroad tracks, and how much it would cost by replacing the tracks with the trail.

It is also to examine:

The economic impact to the region and the state based on the current use of the rail system.

The economic impact of a trail from Weirs Beach to Franklin in place of a rail system.

Recreation, transportation and health benefits that might be realized from a completed rail trail from Weirs Beach to Franklin.

How would a completed trail system, in place of rail, impact the snowmobile community?

Is it feasible for the current lessee, the Plymouth and Lincoln Railroad, to continue to operate tourist trains and its maintenance business with an interrupted line?

If the current rail line was interrupted from Weirs Beach to Northfield to construct the trail, what impact would this have on tourism and future commercial rail use?

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