Commissioner gives blunt answers to rails-to-trails detractor – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Commissioner gives blunt answers to rails-to-trails detractor

Jim Foster

Osage County Commissioner Gaylord Anderson, left, listens as Jim Foster presents concerns to the commission about rails-to-trails during the March 4 meeting.

LYNDON-He might not have gotten the answer he came for, but he did get an answer.

Monday, for the second week in a row, Jim Foster met with the Osage County commissioners to continue a years-long conversation about rails-to-trails issues in the county.

Two sections of railbanked rail lines cross Osage County, with continuing development of the Landon Nature Trail and the Flint Hills Nature Trail by the Kanza Rail-Trail Conservancy, a non-profit, volunteer organization.

At the Feb. 4 county commission meeting, Foster offered to share his years of research and collected documents about the federal rails-to-trails laws to county counselor Caleb Crook, and asked to meet with Crook to explain procedures he believes would allow the county to revoke the trail operators’ permit.

Foster has said he believes the trail operators have not fulfilled their responsibilities under a contract that permits them to operate the trail. He has previously requested that county commissioners present information to the Surface Transportation Board in an effort to revoke KRTC’s permit.

In recent months, the county has been working toward a lease with KRTC for two bridges on former railroad right of way in eastern Osage County on 221st and 229th streets. Commissioners have said the old wooden bridges need repaired for public safety.

This week, Foster said he thought communication had been opened last week between him, the county and Crook, who recently assumed the duties of county counselor. But with no contact from Crook since last week’s meeting, Foster said he was again discouraged and considering taking the issue to court.

“The longer it went on, no contact made, it weighed heavy on me,” Foster said, indicating he believed his offer of information was being ignored.

“The people that have taken the time to research and get the information that I’ve tried to share are pretty important people,” Foster said. “And what it boils down to, to get it listened to, do I have to file with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and have it reviewed in court over the things I’ve talked about?”

He said the county should specifically look at his research on “who’s responsible for what, who has the title by statute to do what.”

“I’d like a chance to explain,” Foster said of his request to confer with the county counselor.

He said the lack of maintenance on the bridges constitute damages occurring to the county, and that if he filed a lawsuit, “that would make it so everybody in the county would be able to come after a piece of it.”

“Were’ spending our money to fix somebody else’s problem because they are in violation of their contract, and that on its face is wrong,” he said. “It has been a public safety issue that I have been bugging to get resolved for a long time and there has been a solution to it.”

The solution is to take the concerns about the bridges to the Surface Transportation Board, he said, instead of entering into a lease with the trail operators. He also indicated he believed the trail operators are the wrong entity to make the lease; instead the lease should be with the railroad.

“So can we review [the information] or do I need to file?” he asked the commissioners.

Crook replied that he believed the county and Foster were in agreement.

“As far as I know, I and the commissioners understand [the right of way] is under the conditions of the Surface Transportation Board, so I think we already agree,” Crook said.

“From my perspective, the only issue with rails-to-trails on my plate is two bridges that happen to cross the rails-to-trails,” Crook said. “So there’s going to be a lease acquired in order for the county to maintain those bridges.”

Foster’s comments drew a blunt response from Osage County Commissioner Ken Kuykendall.

“You’re still wanting us to fight the fight and get rid of rails-to-trails through Osage County,” Kuykendall told Foster, saying he believed the rails-to-trails law “was a dumb idea.”

“In my opinion, this rail-trail thing is just dumb,” Kuykendall said. “I think it’s stealing ground. It would maybe make sense for downtown Cincinnati and even downtown Ottawa, but out here in Osage County, where we have two federal reservoirs and tens of thousands of government acres that people can go walk on, why do we need more?”

Kuykendall said Foster was the only person who had presented rails-to-trails concerns to the commission.

“There are lots of people that own land next to rail-trail that cuss it, and I don’t blame them,” Kuykendall said. “[The trail operators] don’t do the stuff they’re supposed to do. I agree with you they don’t, and they don’t have the funding to do it. I agree with them too, they never got the funding to do it. It’s a train wreck.

“Right now we want to get where we can fix two bridges. It’s a public safety thing on those bridges and those bridges are crap … They will need fixed or repaired in the relatively near future.

“But I am not spending Osage County’s treasury fighting the federal government on the rails trail,” he said. “If that means you want to go to the ACLU and sue this and sue that, fine.”

Foster said the county would not need to go to court to involve the Surface Transportation Board.

“The policies and procedures of the Surface Transportation Board say ‘bring us this information,’” Foster said. “It doesn’t cost anything to simply submit.”

“Some battles in life are not worth doing, and this is one of them,” Kuykendall said.

Crook said he would consider Foster’s information while drafting the lease for the bridges, and when it’s time for the lease to be signed, “I will be comfortable it will be signed with the correct entity.”

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