Trails group de-railed by county commission response

Attempts by the Central Kansas Conservancy to explain its positions Monday at a Marion County Commission meeting ended with the commissioners coming down on the side of land owners opposed to rails to trails development passing through their property where railroad tracks have been removed.

Commission Chairman Bob Hein told CKC members: ?My information from Susan (Robson, county attorney) is that since 1997, you guys haven?t done anything, I mean zero.?

Hein was referring to state of Kansas requirements for maintenance issues, ranging from noxious weed control to liability insurance.

The commission meeting room had been filled with more than 30?persons from both sides of the issue?attending.

Commissioner Dan Holub directed a question to Michael Mills, CKC attorney from McPherson who acted as spokesman for the group.

?If we put this on the ballot, and it came back with a ?no vote,? would you back off, and let us be?? Holub asked.

In response, Mills said CKC would hold rights into the future with federal law superceding local law and wait on a local group to develop the trail.

Mills said, ?I understand you coming from a standpoint of making accusations that somehow CKC members are making money from this. I am telling you that this is done as a charitable thing because we believe in this.?

Mills likened it to people who will give money to a church or a university or any other cause because they believe in it.

?We don?t develop trails,? he said. ?We wait on local people who want to develop it. We won?t make them develop it. We can leave it as natural.?

Regarding weed control, Mills said that CKC had a contract with the Marion County Noxious Weed Office for weed control on the potential trail that was used as a model for the same kind of agreement in McPherson County.

Noxious Weed Director Rollin Schmidt discovered such agreements that were made in 1999 and 2000 that were stopped when CKC failed to pay the bills as agreed.

Mills said he was surprised at that.

Schmidt said he could reestablish a contract if the group paid in the future. He said the bills and collection letters had been sent to CKC Chairman Ron Peters.

All three commissioners expressed displeasure with Peters and other CKC supporters having left the meeting early after asking to have the issue placed on the agenda.

Mills, who stayed for the entire meeting, requested understanding as the CKC are people trying to do a good thing.

Mills said CKC would license use of the trail, not lease it, to public entities as it has done with the city of Marion. He said Marion?s license calls for the city to develop the trail to the city limits, and that CKC would develop it on to Highway 256. Mills explained a similar license with the city of Lindsborg.

Landowners said they had no problem with cities developing trails within their boundaries.

According to Peters, the trail on former railroad siding through Marion and McPherson counties is called the Sunflower Santa Fe Trail.

Peters said that CKC had recruited 120 to 140 members when it first started, but had quit trying to renew memberships or do solicitations.

Mills said the use of turning rails to trails under conservation groups that applied for the status was upheld as a valid act of the U.S. Congress under regulation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in a U.S. Supreme Court Decision in 1990.

Later, the regulation was passed to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which makes all decisions with priority over state and local laws, Mills said. He said this superceding of other law was allowed because of federal recognition that railroads were not being taxed evenly across the country by state and local governments.

Kevin and Cheryl Jost, representing county landowners, cited decisions by the federal appellate court system, the state of Kansas and others concerning requirements placed on groups such as CKC for financial responsibility, liability and assuming such responsibilities as controlling hunting, trapping, weed control and fencing.

Both sides cited local decisions in support of their positions.

Dallke was reappointed as commission representative on the Flint Hills Rural Conser?vation District Board. The commissioners agreed to give $500 support to FHRCD, the same amount as in previous years.

In other business, the commissioners:

n gave input to Acting Road and Bridge Director John Summerville regarding decisions about which roads to chip and seal this summer.

Because fuel prices for road and bridge have climbed so high, the miles of road to be hard-surfaced each season have been cut in half.

n awarded a road and bridge area fuel bid to Cardie Oil Co. of Tampa for $27,059 for 6,000 gallons of diesel and 2,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline over a competitive bid of $27,365 from Cooperative Grain of Hillsboro.

n established a base price of $3.55 a gallon for diesel to index a mileage charge of $2.10 per mile for gravel-loaded trucks.

n discussed making an interlocal agreement with a body such as the Marion County Lake Improvement Association for upkeep of roads. They said that would be the only way to do it because, under state law, a county road must be 60 to 120 feet wide, and such a width would take out yards and gardens at homes along narrow lake roads.

n heard from Planning and Zoning Director Bobbi Strait that new microwave towers, valued around $140,000 each, are assessed at the state level, and therefore are not eligible for local neighborhood revitalization programs.

n heard from Doug Sharp, representing Scully Partners, who presented truck weight tickets showing trucks bringing manure to Scully land along Third Street coming into Marion were within weight limits. Commissioners still decided the trucking company would be billed for damage from mud and manure on the road surface, about $450.

n heard from Marion Nichols and Linda Johnson about Mid Kansas Community Action Program plans for providing meals for children from low income families this summer.

Nichols confirmed for Hein that small towns like Durham are eligible when a minimal number of 50 children can be included.

Hein said something like the Durham Senior Center would be a good spot with volunteer workers providing help.

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