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Proposed Rail to Trail project ditches demonstration trail, moves forward with grant application

Project organizers expect a decision regarding the receipt of the grant for a feasibility study in late-March.

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The Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail project plans to convert old railways into a multipurpose trail, eventually linking into a larger system in Nebraska. The group's first focus is a segment between Platte and Ravinia. Map courtesy of Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail

TABOR — Leaders of the proposed Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail project is stepping away from a demonstration trail they hoped would win over support from state boards, leaning instead to apply for a federal grant to conduct a feasibility study regardless of the state's approval.

After appearing before the South Dakota State Railroad Board and Authority for a fourth straight month, project organizers for the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail project announced they will move forward with a federal grant application to fund a feasibility study and back out on a demonstration trail near Lake Andes — which they had originally hoped would win over the board and authority.

READ MORE: Rail to Trail project proposes demonstration trail near Lake Andes to prove feasibility to state board

Each month since their initial pitch in September , the Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail have been instructed to return to the board and authority's next meeting with more information and a more solid plan, as the board and authority have been hesitant to give their approval of leasing the rail.

In October, the group proposed creating a five-mile long demonstration trail , believing it would pose less risk to the board and authority.

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"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," project organizer Bob Foley told the board and authority in November. “Committing to the study is not committing to the full project.”

After commissioners failed to provide the group with a sense of approval, they were instructed to return in December.

"We’re going to be dropping the five mile demonstration plan," project co-chair Ron Wagner said. "We're going to go on the feasibility study, because we want to address the concerns, the problems. We want to do what we need to do to address the problems for everybody."

Though Wagner had indicated to the board and authority in October that the group needed approval — or at least a memorandum of support — by early-January to meet an American Rescue Plan grant deadline, he now says the group will move forward with applying for the grant regardless of the board and authority's approval.

"We still want to go forward with the grant, even without board approval," Wagner said.

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Attendees of a Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail public meeting in Lake Andes on Oct. 14 examine and discuss maps of the proposed trail. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail

Opponents of the trail have used the board and authority's public commentary agenda items to express their concerns about the trail.

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Ed Van Gerpen, a Bon Homme County commissioner, said too much of the trail crosses county roads, and that area governments won't support the project due to liability issues.

"The county commissions from Bon Homme county have voted to not support this project. We align with the Charles Mix County Commission, who are also not supporting it," Van Gerpen said. "Without that support, since all this rail crosses county roads, I think you're going to find this mission is going to be very difficult to accomplish."

Larry Lucas, a cross country coach for Andes Central/Dakota Christian and supporter of the project, countered Van Gerpen's comment with his first-hand experience.

Lucas said his athletes occasionally practice on gravel roads, and both runners and drivers follow rules of the road.

"If we practice there … it’s not uncommon to meet a gravel truck," Lucas said. "It leaves a little bit of concern in my part with my athletes. But, we slow down, we move off to the side, and the farmers and truckers do the same thing."

Liability from an accident would fall upon whoever is deemed at fault, according to Lucas, who implied liability would not be falling on county or township governments.

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

Dave Scott, another opponent of the proposal, shared his feelings bluntly.

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"I want you to know that this is not a welcome project to those that are directly affected," Scott said.

Wagner did not directly address concerns from opponents.

" We definitely want input from [the board and authority] so we can go ahead and include that in the feasibility study so we can answer your questions," Wagner said.

The board and authority did not express explicit approval or disapproval of the project, and no action was taken regarding the proposal.

Project organizers will submit their grant application to fund the feasibility study. They expect a decision regarding the receipt of the grant in late-March.

Related Topics: RECREATION
A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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