Belle mayor objects to grant withdrawal request by DNR

By: 
Roxanne Murphy

BELLE — Belle’s mayor sent a letter July 17 to Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) declining a request to withdraw the city’s previously awarded $72,328 Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant to build a path on the former Rock Island railroad from downtown to the city park.

Belle Mayor Josh Seaver sent the letter, in collaboration with Missouri Rock Island Trails Inc. (MORIT), on behalf of the city in response to a June 28 notice from DNR’s Rebecca Rost, grants management section chief. Rost’s letter stated the department’s intentions to “deobligate” the city’s grant funds and, added, “given the fact that no Interim Trail Use Agreement has been signed, the (Missouri Trail Advisory Board) recommended that the city withdraw its application.”

Seaver’s letter, sent directly to Missouri State Parks Director Ben Ellis, said city officials were surprised by the request to withdraw the grant application, “as we have been assured more than once by DNR officials and as recently as Jan. 9, 2018, by the Grants Management Section Chief that the hard deadline for construction set by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is 2022.”

Seaver went on to mention the construction delays were exclusively due to actions taken by DNR; therefore the city respectfully requested an extension of the grant construction deadline through 2022 — the maximum extension allowance on the grant.

The city was awarded the grant in 2014 for a crushed limestone trail alongside the Rock Island rails from downtown Belle to the city park.

“We gladly complied when asked to amend the grant to build the trail on the rail bed because DNR was pursing rail banking the whole 144 miles of the Rock Island corridor as a recreational trail,” Seaver said.

The amended grant scope was approved in October 2016. In December 2016, the city sought approval to begin construction, but first needed approval of the FHWA NEPA review, submitted via DNR.

“There was no response for several months, so we asked the office of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt to investigate,” Seaver said. “His office advised us the request had been stopped because changes to the project were being considered.”

The city continued to wait for approval and June 5, 2017, brought the opposite — a request by DNR to suspend efforts for one year because the project was being re-evaluated.

“The city of Belle has already expended thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours toward this project because we are committed to building our trail as described in the amended RTP grant request,” Seaver said. “It will be part of the larger Rock Island Trail, made possible when MDNR accepts Ameren’s gift of the 144 mile corridor for preservation in the public domain.”

Seaver went on to say the city understands DNR is evaluating whether to accept the corridor.

“However, whether in partnership with MDNR or another trail manager, the city of Belle would like to quickly build our segment of the trail using the approved RTP grant,”Seaver concluded. “We respectfully request extension of RTP Project 2014-07 from the December 2018 deadline to the previously assured 2022.”