KATY TRAIL AT BOONVILLE, MO
A decision made recently by Governor Matt Blunt to "give back" a railroad bridge spanning the Missouri River at Boonville to Union Pacific Railroad may turn out to put the Katy Trail in jeopardy. It might also weaken the legal position of other Rails to Trails projects currently being developed within the state, at least that's the implication many have derived.
Although the governor has taken most of the heat for this now, Department of Natural Resources director Doyle Childers had announced in late April 2005, that the State was turning liability for the lift-type bridge back to its original owner, the Union Pacific Railroad.
In a DNR news release dated April 25, 2005, ("Department of Natural Resources Allows Union Pacific to Move Bridge at Boonville - Releases State from Millions of Dollars in Financial Liability") Childers announced that he was reversing a decision made by Former DNR Director Stephen Mahfood to assume all financial liability for the bridge in exchange for "interim rights of trail usage".
The state simply cannot afford to accept liability for the bridge at this time. The U.S. Coast Guard has informed the state, as recently as last week in fact, that we must either renovate the bridge to federal transportation standards or tear it down. Either of those options would cost the state several million dollars. Allowing the railroad to move its bridge to solve a major transportation bottleneck in Osage County is clearly the right thing to do for improvement of our transportation system and the state's taxpayers.
Childers was referring to Union Pacific's request to dismantle the bridge, sell part of it for scrap and reuse part of it for a bridge the company wants to build over the Osage River.
The opportunity for the Missouri DNR to acquire the right-of-way was made possible by a "railbanking" clause of the National Trails System Act. It provides that railroad corridors no longer needed for active rail service can be banked for future transportation needs and used on an interim basis for recreational trails. A 1987 contract between the state and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Line was exercised and, according to blogger Roy Temple, because of a generous donation by the late Edward D. "Ted" Jones, the department was able to secure the right-of-way and construct the trail.
In 1991, the Union Pacific Railroad donated to the state an additional 33 miles of rail corridor from Sedalia to east of Clinton. Additional purchases and donations were added, opening the way for the eventual establishment of the 225-mile biking and hiking path from St. Charles to Clinton that has become a top tourism attraction in Missouri and one of the country's largest rails-to-trails projects.
Since federal law allows for inactive railroad lines to be converted to recreational trails, as long as they are "banked" for future restoration as rail lines. Ron Kucera, who recently resigned as deputy director for policy at the DNR, believes that removing the bridge would create a gap in the corridor and threaten the legal foundation for the Katy Trail's existence. Kucera said that the bridge allows the public right of way to be maintained and that any break in the line could set the stage for private property owners along the trail to take the state to court to win back their property.
Funds to renovate the bridge were being sought by Katy Trail sponsors. Currently, a path across a highway bridge is incorporated in the section of the Katy Trail that crosses the Missouri River.
A group entitled Missourians Fired Up and Fighting Back! spearheaded by Jean Carnahan, wife of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, and Temple, the former campaign organizer for Gov. Bob Holden, has issued the following appeal:
We have an important matter that we wanted to bring to your attention.
Within the last few days, Governor Matt Blunt made a decision that put the Katy Trail State Park in jeopardy. This park is a Missouri treasure, enjoyed by thousands of Misssourians each year. You may have enjoyed the park firsthand.
The Katy Trail State Park was made possible by a very sophisticated legal agreement that was reached many years ago. Governor Blunt's recent decision
threatens that legal underpinning and risks plunging the state into a legal quagmire.
Fired Up! started an online petition to urge the Governor to reverse his terrible decision. Please take a moment to go here to find out more and to help save the Katy Trail State Park.....
Missourians Fired Up and Fighting Back!
P.S. To stay up to date on this topic, visit the Fired Up! Katy Trail forum regularly.