The Prestonsburg City Council took steps this week to start the annexation process for the property the city previously bought for the a rail-to-trail that stretches from West Prestonsburg to David.
On Monday, the council held the first reading of an ordinance to annex property located from the city’s existing limits in West Prestonsburg to David, including all railway and right-of-ways for about 10.1 miles. An exhibit referenced in the ordinance is not yet finalized, officials reported, but Mayor Les Stapleton said the annexation will encompass around 160 acres.
The ordinance cites a state statute used by local governments to declare an intent to annex, but this ordinance, if approved next month, will be the final ordinance annexing the property. Stapleton said no property owners will be annexed. The annexation encompasses only the rail trail and the right-of-way, he reported.
“It’s just the trail, that’s all,” Stapleton said. “We need to be able to do that so we can have control and get taxes and other stuff on the project.”
He explained that by annexing the trail, the city will be able to collect occupational taxes from companies that are awarded bids to complete the trail work.
“We are not interested in annexing anybody up David,” Stapleton said. “We just have to do this on our property because it is contiguous to what we have. That’s all we’re doing.”
Stapleton said the construction phase of this project will start in about two weeks and the trail will be finished in four phases.
“I want people to know that we’re going to be policing it. We’re going to be cleaning it, maintaining it,” Stapleton said. “They will see a presence on the property. And, see, that’s another thing, too, since we’re annexing it in, our police will have a lot easier way of operating up there now.”
Stapleton said it will be a non-motorized trail, but ATVs will be used for maintenance on the trail and for emergencies. The trail will serve as an emergency corridor for people who are flooded in along the rail trail, he reported.
He said people are already using the trail and reported that ATV use on the trail “has become an issue.” The city plans to install gates to prevent recreational ATV access, he reported.
The city recently advertised for bids on the project. Stapleton said a pre-bid meeting will be held this week and companies interested in doing the work will provide bids by Oct. 18. He selected three members of the city council to score those bids and make recommendations at the council’s next meeting.
The area proposed to be annexed does not include the entire 11.4 miles of rail that Prestonsburg bought from CSX this year. Stapleton said the portion of the trail that stretches to the David School will have to be completed outside of the grant the city received.
“Actually CSX is still working on it through a contractor. They’re pulling all of the rails out, fixing all the crossings and stuff, so, when we take it over, all we’ll have is gravel, or hard top, where it crosses the road,” he said.
The project has been ongoing since 2015. That year, Prestonsburg filed a request with the federal surface transportation board seeking permission to negotiate with CSX to buy 11.4 miles of rail line that the company was planning to abandon.
The Surface Transportation Board issued a notice of interim trail use or abandonment in Dec. 2015, and the negotiating period between the city and CSX ended in Nov. 2017.
In August 2017, Prestonsburg received preliminary approval for a $1.95 million grant as part of the 2016 Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot program for the project, but the funds were not immediately available. Stapleton said Prestonsburg now has about $1.5 million left in the grant.
The Prestonsburg City Council agreed to buy the trail for $390,000 in December 2018.
The quitclaim deed for the purchase of 165.98 acres was executed on Jan. 4, 2019, and it gave CSX 180 days to remove the track.
The Surface Transportation Board reports that Prestonsburg “late-filed a request for re-issuance” of the notice in order to negotiate with CSX for acquisition of the right-of-way in April. On April 29, the federal Surface Transportation Board issued a decision in the case, requiring the parties to notify the federal agency if an agreement is reached.
On May 14, Prestonsburg and CSX jointly notified the agency that they entered into a purchase sale agreement for the rail banking and interim trail use of about 11.4 miles of railroad line.