At $100,000 per mile, taxpayers shell out for the pleasure of a few citizens
June 17, 2003
Greedy, self-centered hypocrites. How else can one characterize those who
believe it is their manifest destiny to steal private land so that they can walk a trail without having to bear the cost of their actions.
In the 1980's, Congress, egged on by environmentalists with too much time and money on their hands, and with governance beliefs more appropriate for Russia than America, passed a law that provided for the "banking" of abandoned railroad rights-of-way and allowed the creation of "interim trails" on the banked rights-of-way.
One of the conditions imposed by the rail banking law was that the right-of-way had to be maintained in a condition that it could be put back into railroad service. The attitude of the trail groups was what the heck, no sweat, what railroad is ever going to come back once the rails are pulled up.
Surprise, surprise, a railroad has actually demanded that a right-of-way converted to a trail be returned to its control - and the trailites had a cow, first opposing the reopening of the railroad line and then demanding that the railroad reimburse them for their costs.
In a May 9, 2003, decision, the Surface Transportation Board, responding to Docket No. AB-389 (Sub-No. 1X,) put the trailites in their place. The STB stated that the federal law gave the Georgia Southwestern Railroad the right to reopen its line between Albany and Sasser, Georgia, at its pleasure and that nothing in the law required the railroad to pay anyone anything that was not spelled out in contracts that might have been signed when the trail group was given the OK to develop a trail.
Many railroads obtained their rights-of-way under contracts that stated the land would revert to the original landowner if the railroad was abandoned, thus giving landowners reversionary land ownership rights.
In these cases, the federal railroad right-of-way banking laws said that if a railroad abandoned the line, it really was not abandoned if some group came forward to turn the right-of-way into a trail. The trail group could gain control of the land for an interim trail, with the land "banked" for future railroad use.
The poor landowner was out of luck - his reversionary, contractual rights were trumped by positive law enacted by a Congress making points with vocal constituents. This scenario is playing out in southeast Kansas, providing a home-grown example of the trailite-landowner confrontation spawned by the federal law.
The AT&SF Railroad abandoned its line through Anderson and Franklin counties, and in jumped the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) to create The Prairie Spirit Trail. KDWP even claims ownership, holding a meaningless quitclaim deed signed by the railroad - the landowner’s priority reversionary rights remain in effect.
Dale E. Anderson, a reversionary landowner in Garnett, is a leader in the fight to reassert the land owners’ rights and to shine the light on how the KDWP wastes tax dollars.
The socialists in state government exude the attitude of damn the economy, damn the taxpayers, spend whatever it takes to grab control of private property and enlarge the state’s dominion.
Anderson extracted from KDWP the information that in 2002, the department took in $7,495.25 in trail-use fees and that trail maintenance expenses were $80,046.20. KDWP claimed that 55,350 people used the trail in 2002. With the per-day fee being $2.50, and the yearly fee $10.50, it must require government school creative math to resolve the dollars collected with the number of users. (Put your high school algebra to work - solve for the number of daily and annual permits.)
All taxpayers are shelling out for the pleasure of a few citizens. The entire effort violates Lawrence Reed's Third Principle: "Sound policy requires that we consider long-run effects and all people, not simply short-run effects and a few people."
KDWP’s attitude is to the effect "Money does not matter, trails improve the quality of life." That this little-used project cost the taxpayers over $100,000 a mile adds to the evidence that the agency has no sense of its fiduciary duty to taxpayers - and they want to add more miles to the trail. KDWP thinks it has every right to tap taxpayers' wallets for however much it needs.
The agency has a Guardian complex, operating on the assumption that it knows better than taxpayers do how their tax dollars should be spent.
KDWP’s actions validate Reed's Fifth Principle: "Nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own." With the state in a fiscal mess, KDWP should be cutoff at the knees on this one - shut down the trail, let the land revert to the owners for productive use, and stop the hemorrhaging of tax dollars.
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