Letter: Keep promises related to trail, eminent domain

To the editor:

Over 13 years ago a group of citizens loosely formed the self-named Salt Creek Trail Committee. The president, Kevin Allen, spoke at a Brown County Commissioners meeting in 2004 and stated that eminent domain would never be used for the proposed trail.

Gary and Sheila Oliver and Brown County Schools have received offers to purchase a portion of their properties with each offer including the eminent domain process. A recorded agreement states the Brown County Commissioners will eventually own those properties.

The proposed DNR phase of the trail goes from the state park and ends in Eagle Park just east of Salt Creek. INDOT and our commissioners are responsible for the west bridge going over Salt Creek and the eminent domain to put it there.

At the recent school board-hosted meeting, a Department of Natural Resources representative spoke of nonprofits raising money to support trails. One of the original goals of the Salt Creek Trail Committee was to raise a permanent endowment fund of $200,000 dedicated to trail maintenance. No such fund exists. We taxpayers are paying and will pay even more.

Brown County Schools invited all of the “key players” to meet. INDOT and Parsons Engineering did not attend. The Salt Creek Trail Committee’s representative, Bob Kirlin, acknowledged he had told them they did not need to attend. Questions could not be addressed. No wonder there were no solutions.

One very important issue discussed at length was the concern of keeping registered sex offenders from using the trail on school property. As noted in the paper, two local officials spoke for a security fence along the trail. The DNR indicated that floods damaging the fence were more important than the safety of our students. These concerns and other safety concerns regarding our students were not resolved.

The bridge is not historic. The Oct. 11 Democrat article and others have noted the 400-foot-long, 46-foot-wide steel bridge as being historical. An official letter from the National Register of Historic Places states, “We have denied the request to approve the proposed move of the bridge,” and “separating the two trusses and placing them in two different locations would destroy the historic integrity” and “render it ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places.” The letter was dated Sept. 29, 2015.

No estimate of maintenance and repair costs has been completed by the county or committee for the trail. Yet, when an estimate from Parsons Engineering for the bridge alone of $700,000-plus over 30 years was quoted, commissioner Diana Biddle discredited it. Parsons is receiving a fee in the six figures for their work. If their work is not credible, then why were they hired?

A speaker from the audience spoke of concern of losing future INDOT grants due to the status of the trail. I think we already have. The DNR rep stated it is one of the two longest ongoing trail projects in the state. That failure to complete, combined with the local, national press and TV coverage documenting the local anti-eminent domain sentiment, may have already cost Brown County the recent Community Crossings funds.

I am not against the trail, but the trail committee’s original promise never to use eminent domain must be kept.

If a trail is to be completed, we must not jeopardize the safety of Brown County students.

Ken Birkemeier, Jackson Branch Ridge

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