Starrett breaks ranks on trail project
Starrett raised her concerns as commissioners deliberated approval of a letter of support for an application to the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.
If the trail were accepted, the program staff would help trail supporters develop a master plan, said County Administrator Laura Tschabold. She said that stood to shave $20,000 off of the trail development tab, at no cost to the county.
The board went on to approve the letter of support on a 2-1 vote, with Commissioners Allen Springer and Kathy George voting affirmatively and Starrett dissenting.
The trail would follow a former Union Pacific rail line running north from St. Joseph, mid-way between McMinnville and Lafayette. The line runs past Carlton, Yamhill and Hagg Lake on its way to a point near Gaston.
The project is being championed by Carlton vintner and civic leader Ken Wright, who has assembled a broad cross-section of supporters. He has obtained a sale commitment from the railroad, subject to coming up with the funds.
Af the meeting, Starrett objected to the $200,000 the county has already committed to the project. With many county roads needing improvement, she said, she wondered if it was in the county's best interest to spend money on a hiking and biking trail.
She also expressed concern about how purchase and development of former railroad right of way could potentially infringe on the rights of adjacent property owners. "I cannot in good conscience commit any more money to the project," she said.
Starrett went on to reference a Supreme Court decision issued earlier this year, Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States, calling question conversion of former rail lines to trail uses. In the decision, the court found for a Wyoming family that argued once rail right of way was abandoned, it reverted to the original landowner under an 1875 law.
In a phone interview following the meeting, County Counsel Christian Boenisch said the county was aware of the decision and was looking into any possible impact on the proposed Yamhelas Westsider Trail.
The federal government donated land to railroads under several different types of grants over many decades. The issue is whether the 17-mile line the former rail line the county is seeking to purchase is among those lands affected by the relatively narrow ruling.
Boenisch said that would require title research on both the right of way and adjacent property, as well as the terms under which title to the right of way was conveyed. He said the county was looking to partner with the Oregon Department of Transportation in the endeavor.
Springer rejected Starrett's arguments, saying the project enjoyed broad community support. He said he had not heard any objections himself.
He said statute limits the county to use of gas tax revenue to fund its road-paving program. He said it cannot legally commit general fund money to that purpose, eliminating any conflict between trail and road demands.
Springer went on to note the decision before commissioners Thursday did not commit the county to any further financial outlay. "Before any more money is committed, we will decide about it when the time comes," he said.
Commissioner Kathy George also threw her support behind the trail project. "The transportation easement has been there a long time and property owners knew it was there when they purchased," she said.
George said the trail would provide a place for residents and tourists alike to gather and ride bikes and gather without having to worry about automobile traffic. She said there was a lot of support around the county for that.
"This won't cost the taxpayers anything," she said of the decision before the board Thursday. And she echoed Springer in saying, "I've never had landowners come to me saying they were upset about the project."
In other business, the commissioners approved placement of a "No Through Trucks" signs on Worden Hill Road.
During the commissioners' Monday meeting, Road Director John Phelan told them semis had been traversing the newly-paved road. He said it had not been built to accommodate heavy loads, and that could cause damage.