The Prestonsburg City Council moved forward with plans for the rail-to-trail project that is set to stretch from West Prestonsburg to David last week.
During a special meeting on Dec. 27, the city council gave Mayor Les Stapleton authority to buy the properties for the trail from CSX.
He reported after the meeting that the city is paying $395,000 for 159 acres of property from CSX.
The city received preliminary approval in Aug. 2017 to receive $1.95 million as part of the 2016 Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot Program for this project and officials report that about $63,000 has been spent to date on engineering, surveying and deed work.
Stapleton said the city received the authority to proceed on the project from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in November and CSX has already started removing the rails along the proposed trail. He said the end of this project, however, is still not in sight. He referenced it as still being in the “infancy” stage.
Council members discussed the project at length during the meeting, starting with discussion about potential opposition from Stapleton.
He told the council, “The closing agreement with CSX. You all have a copy of it and just today at about 2 o’clock, I received the paper in front of you from Marty Osborne. Basically, what he says is there is state law that may give them some rights, but because this is handled through the Surface Transportation Board, which is a federally-mandated board and it’s federally-mandated transportation, that it overrides the state’s authority. If they’re going to sue anybody, they don’t have to sue us, they can sue the federal government. Hurrah. They can stand in line for it.”
City Attorney Jennifer Elliott said that assertion is what city officials believed, but they wanted to make sure.
Stapleton continued, “We have, you all actually gave me the permission to go through and get the monies and everything. We’ve got the monies. They’re sitting in an account. All of the attorneys’ money will come out of the funding we receive, and the closing agreement, the payment for the properties will also come out of that. Everything is in order as far as the state’s concerned, as far as the AML’s (Abandoned Mine Lands) concerned. All I need is your all’s authority to go ahead and close on the properties and pay them their money.”
Council member Harry Adams raised concerns about the future costs of the project.
“What’s your estimate on maintenance on this once its up and running, what’s it going to cost us?” he asked.
“It’s going to be one guy, traveling through on a daily basis, looking for problems, picking up garbage and stuff, maybe rolling it a couple of times a year,” Stapleton said. “That will be the most. That will be as bad as it’s going to get. Once it’s put in, it’s, we’re going to asphalt as far as we can.”
Adams asked the question a couple of times during the meeting, as Stapleton explained that the cost would be “minimal.”
“Luckily, we end up with an arts center that was given to us and it’s been kind of tough on us. We’ve got a golf course that was given to us and it’s kind of tough on us. I was wondering if there’s a way out on this. If the bleeding’s too bad, can we get out?” Adams asked.
Elliott explained that a trail is different than businesses.
“And the difference between this and, let’s say, StoneCrest or the MAC is that it’s not an ongoing business,” she said. “This is a trail. This is something we’re doing for economic development for adventure that once it’s done, it’s done. It’s like the mayor says if you don’t use it and people don’t want it, it’s just there.”
Stapleton said the trailheads will be located at Archer Park and at the David School.
Council member Don Willis asked whether the city will have a way to keep vehicles off the trail.
“Yes, we are,” Stapleton told him. “… We’re going to put some posts in. There’s different ways of doing posts, short gates, two short gates in succession. There’s all kinds of different ways. We’ve got to find out what’s going to work the best for us, where it’s at.”
Council member Shag Branham talked about the use of the trail during flooding.
“It is an emergency corridor, too. That was also a part of the Abandoned Mine Lands, that’s why we were able to get the grant. It’s an emergency corridor. That was something that we made real clear right off the bat. If we put the two short gates up, they’re like this,” Stapleton said, holding his hands up to demonstrate. “So you can’t get a vehicle in. So, when you open them both up, they can, a vehicle can travel. We may do it with poles. We may do it with lockers. There’s all kinds of different ways of doing it.”
He said the trail would be open for hikers, horses and bicycles.
Stapleton said the city doesn’t know how far the city will pave the trail. Paving will be determined by the cost of the work required to build the trail, he explained.
“We know we have enough to build the trail. We know we have enough to fix the bridges. We know we have enough to get it in place,” he said. “How far the asphalt will go? We don’t know yet. The asphalt is gravy. It’s just gravy on what we’re doing now.”
After the meeting, Stapleton talking about the possibility of the city annexing the rail line in the future. He said the city will annex the rail line because it will own the property, but he also noted that the city owns property that has not been annexed into the city limits, such as property in Wayland that Prestonsburg recently leased to that city.
He said he is excited to see the project move forward.
“It’s been proven that the rail-trail projects have so many benefits,” he said. “One is tourism. It brings people in. If they’ve got something to do, they’ll do that. They’ll spend money in your restaurants. They’ll go to the Mountain Arts Center. They’ll do all of that stuff. It all adds together.”
He said marketing the trail would be key to its success.