Supervisors Meet With Opponents Of Trail ?Plan
The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors went on record Tuesday morning in regards to the ongoing controversy over a proposed recreational trail on the east side of Five Island Lake. In a discussion with a group opposing the trail proposal on the east side of the lake, Supervisor Chair Ed Noonan put an end to speculation.
“We’re not planning on rescinding the resolution,” Noonan said, “But we are going to change the last line of the resolution to give the board the final right of approval before anything is built in the county’s right-of-way.”
The disclosure came about at the end of a session with a group of 10 persons who have been opposed to the current trail plan in recent meetings. Bertha Mathis acted as the spokesperson for the group and started their presentation with a plea to rescind the original right-of-way resolution.
Noonan spoke up. “I’ve said this many times before this, but we’re not in the business of building trails.”
“Well, you may want to get out of it quick,” replied Bill Smith, a member of the group.
“We never started,” answered Supervisor Keith Wirtz
“We have not rescinded our resolution, because we don’t want to be known as the board that killed a trail,” Noonan satated.
“Well, you can blame me, I have broad shoulders,” Mathis replied.
“We have considered changing the last couple of lines in the resolution,” Supervisor Jerry Hofstad said.
County Attorney Peter C. Hart, who was also in attendance during the meeting, addressed a letter from Wallace Taylor, an attorney in Cedar Rapids, regarding use of right-of-way cases in Iowa. “I respect Mr. Taylor’s opinion, but I differ with it. Creating a recreational trail is not expanding on the easements that were granted.”
“We believe that this is not a transportation trail, it is for entertainment purposes only,” Mathis responded.
“The easements say that the use can be for a public roadway only,” noted Kristin Ruiz. “The Iowa Supreme Court says an easement is granted for a specific use. Nowhere in these easements is the word transportation used. They all say for highway and road purposes.”
Hofstad asked the county attorney if it was his opinion that the trail was a legal use of right-of-way, to which Hart replied, “yes.”
Bill Smith presented letters he had written to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission about the proposed trail. “They told me to give you guys a copy so you’re not blindsided when they make decisions about all this.”
Again, Mathis urged the supervisors to rescind their original right-of-way motion. “We want you to rescind your resolution. You can do another one at a later time.”
Mathis noted that there were questions as to a conflict of interest with the resolution, as well as questions about whether the board did its due diligence and lived up to its fiduciary responsibilities before adopting the resolution.
“I did all this research in two weeks time,” Mathis told the board. “The FIT committee has had six years to do theirs. What did they do in that time?”
“We are not the trail committee,” Supervisor Ron Graettinger spoke up.
“Yes you are,” Mathis interrupted. “You all voted for this. Rescind your motion.”
Mathis continued, “You have conflicts of interest here. Supervisor Leo Goeders’ wife Kathy works for Tammy Nag, who is on the FIT committee. He should abstain from votes on this. And, the county engineer is working for you and the committee at the same time.”
“We’ve addressed the engineer’s hours and that has been taken care of,” Noonan responded.
“I think we need to step back, take a good look at all of this,” Hofstad said. “We acted hastily before and we don’t want to make a wrong decision again.”
“You know, I don’t know if there is a right decision to make,” Noonan agreed.
“There are two main points for you to consider,” Kristin Ruiz told the supervisors. “First, cost is very relevant – a good estimate is important. How are people going to judge if they can justify making donations to a project in these economic times when there are no hard, set numbers? Also, in their grant application, there is mention of a grander vision, a bigger vision for trails in Palo Alto County. Why are they not forthcoming with this vision? Do they not want the people to know?”
“I haven’t seen any hidden agenda for county-wide trails,” Noonan replied.
Noonan then asked Steve Heldt, a member of the Five Island Trail committee, if there was any other trail plan under consideration or in existence.
“Other than the plan introduced by Loren Greiner, there is no plan that I’m aware of, other than the trail to Duhigg Park,” Heldt replied.
“We just want landowner’s rights to be respected,” Ruiz said. “A trail is an awesome idea, but if you don’t own the land it is put on and you give up peoples’ rights to build it, that’s not right.”
“It wouldn’t matter where you went, it would be hard to get 100 percent landowner participation in a trail,” Noonan agreed.
“Why are you fighting us? Gary Frink asked. “Why does this have to be the east side of the lake?“
“This isn’t a county trail,” Noonan repeated again, but once again, Bertha Mathis insisted it was.
“You gave them the leverage with that resolution,” Steve Mathis said. “You took away the rights of all the others with it.“
“We made a mistake, we realize that, and we’re going to change it,” stated Wirtz.
“The only problem is if we wipe this off the books, then we will be the board that killed the trail,” Noonan said again.
“No you won’t,” Ruiz said. “I hear you saying you acted hastily, but you’re not standing behind your words.“
“You’d be the board that stood behind the landowners,” Gary Frink said.
“We are not against the use of the right-of-way to build a trail,” Noonan said. “If there’s a place the committee aggress it’s a good fit, that’s why the resolution was passed.“
“I agree with that,” Graettinger noted.
Noonan informed the group that the resolution and an amendment would be on the agenda for the next meeting of the board of supervisors on Oct. 13. “We’re just changing sentences to give the board of supervisors approval before any construction is done in our right-of-way. We’re not planning on rescinding the resolution, but we are going to change the last line of the resolution.”