LAKE ANDES — After appearing before the South Dakota State Rail Board and Authority for a third straight month, organizers of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail project are again heading home without the approval they’ve been seeking to kick their project off.

The Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail project eventually aims to acquire a lease-type ownership of 62.1 miles of railway to ultimately create an 83-mile-long trail from northwest of Platte to east of Tabor. The trail would someday loop into shared-use roadways to complete a 357-mile-long loop that swings into Nebraska.

After appearing before the Rail Board and Authority at their September and October meetings — both of which they were instructed to return with a more formal proposal — organizers returned to Wednesday’s meeting with a lower-risk proposal.

“We wanna try to move this to a next phase, so we’ve modified our proposal a bit,” said Bob Foley, secretary of the Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail. “What we’re asking you to do today is consider our revised proposal.”

READ MORE: Local official: Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail proposal places ‘unacceptable’ liabilities on townships, counties

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Instead of seeking immediate approval for a section of railbanked line running from Platte to Ravinia, organizers are now seeking a memorandum of approval from the Rail Board and Authority for the group to install a five-mile long demonstration trail near Lake Andes to prove the feasibility of their larger proposal.

“It's an easy thing in the sense that it begins at a less contentious end of the trail and it goes to Lake Andes, where there’s already a nearly one-mile rail to trail,” Foley said.

Organizers say they are in need of some form of documentation to demonstrate state interest before applying for a federal grant to help fund the project.

“If you say there will be no trail on the rail, then the grant won't work,” Foley said.

The Rail Board and Authority has been hesitant to commit because it feels it needs more information from the group, but the group says it can’t provide a feasibility report without approval — a scenario that could be mitigated with a demonstration trail.

“There’s no commitment after the study that we would actually build more of the trail, there would be more discussion to arise after this section is complete,” Foley said. “Committing to the study is not committing to the full project.”

At the State Rail Board and Authority’s meeting in September, organizers said they aimed to secure grant funding by January, with construction of the trail beginning in early 2022.

As the clock ticks for the groups’ funding deadline, the board and authority want to know more about how the public feels, how viable the project is and what the organization’s plans for succession are.

The board and authority placed the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail project on their December agenda, and requested the group return for a fourth appearance.