Bill 196 creating Rock Island State Park Endowment Fund sent to governor

By: 
Roxie Murphy
Staff Writer

Missouri’s Senate passed a bill May 9 that will create a Rock Island Trail State Park Endowment Fund in the state treasury to account for donations made for developing the former railroad-corridor-turned-trail east of  mile marker 215.325 (Windsor) operated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Senate Bill 196 was amended and filed by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter of the 6th Senatorial District, and is now on its way to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk. State Rep. Dave Wood said May 10 that SB 196 protects the uses of  both donated trail funds and state revenue.

“This will allow donations to be collected for the development and maintenance of the trail if the donation is made to the Department of Natural Resources,” Wood said. “This legislation also protects state revenue, as the only money that can be spent on the project has to come from this fund.”

Having a fund to send trail-only donations does not stop the state from delegating trail funds to the account also, Wood said.

“The state has the option of adding to the donations in the fund through general revenue — if an appropriation is made in the budget.”

The Rock Island Trail State Park Endowment Fund may only be used for the purpose of operating, maintaining, developing, and securing any portion of the former Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Corridor east of the aforementioned mile marker.

However, according to language in the legislation, if the Feb. 26, 2015, Notice of Interim Trail Use is ever turned over by the United States Surface Transportation Board, any money in the fund may be refunded to the individuals or entities that have made contributions to the fund or may be transferred to a new trail sponsor or other entity that has accepted responsibility for the management of the corridor as set forth in the act.

Ameren Missouri’s point man on proposed rail bed donation for trail use issued a statement about the creation of the fund.

“We fully support Missouri Senate Bill 196 and the creation of a Rock Island Trail State Park Endowment Fund,” said Ameren’s Warren Wood, vice president, regulatory and legislative affairs. “Ameren Missouri remains committed to donating this possible trail resource to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and will continue to work with stakeholders in an effort to develop this scenic property into a world-class trail.”

Rep. State, Tom Hurst, a Republican from the former Rock Island railroad community of Meta, added that the bill was a solution to those who worried the trail would take funds away from roads and bridges.

“Basically what it comes down  is to protect landowners’ property rights, protect taxpayer dollars, but develop parks and trails,” Hurst said. “If we can keep everything in that respect, and everyone happy, we did one thing right.”

Hurst added that the cities and towns that have committed to developing their part of the trail can go ahead and do that development.

“It gives them a heads-up and a head-start on projects even though the whole trail has not  been developed,” Hurst continued. “With that fund, donors and cities can set forward and do it and we, the state, can say ‘ok, let’s do that.”

Hurst said this is also a way to respect and protect property rights, and taking control can take care of issues such as liability and fencing.

“We came to the conclusion to protect property rights, not have an empty corridor, and allow those who want to develop their parts, can; while protecting funds for roads and bridges — it takes that argument out of the picture. It gives us the ability to do it one step at a time.”

The bill contained an additional measure to allow DNR to award historic preservation grants for county courthouses.

This act authorizes DNR to award grants to preserve, protect and restore historic courthouses with the department acting as a grant administer and fiscal agent for the program. The department shall also be responsible for receiving and reviewing grant applications and awards.

SB 196 passed in the House of Representatives May 6, with 134 yes votes, 6 voting no, 2 recorded as not valid, and 18 legislators abstaining.

Senate votes included 32 yes and zero against.

Wood, a Republican from the Versailles area which also adjoins the trail, added that the overall budget passed with just a few “hang-ups” and is also on its way to the governor’s office.

Belle Alderman Tony Gieck said he doesn’t expect the endowment fund to affect Belle.

“We probably would have to apply for it (the funds),” Gieck said. “Someone said it would be $90,000 to put rock on the 1.1 miles through town. They would probably have an application process. Maybe we could get something at a later date.”

Gieck said he would think someone donating for a specific community would be given to that community.

“If someone in Belle was going to donate that kind of money, I see the city or Rock Island groups setting up a fund to be used right there in Belle, so it is guaranteed to be used in the community, or whatever community they want it to go to.”

Mayor Josh Seaver said he is happy with the progress.

“I hope they accept it, it sounds like a step in the right direction.”

Barb Schaller, court clerk and unofficial grant writer for the city, agreed with Seaver.

“I think it is a clear showing of legislative support for the Rock Island Trail in the state of Missouri and a big movement forward of recognition of the dream in so many small communities,” Schaller said.