As State Parks pledges trail decision by year’s end, Belle officials seek grant extension

Roxie Murphy
Staff Writer

Missouri State Parks (MSP) is suggesting an announcement will be made by year end on whether or not they are going to accept Ameren’s gift of the Rock Island corridor. However, the agency has yet to respond to two letters from the city of Belle requesting an extension on their Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant to build a trail on the railroad bed through city limits.

“We just sent (another) letter a week or so ago,” said Mayor Josh Seaver. “It went to the governor and Ben Ellis at State Parks.”

The letter was also set to Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Tourism Director Ward Franz.

The city of Belle was preemptive in applying for the grant to be able to build a 5,800-foot long section of the trail through town. Since 2014, the city has kept $72,328 in their budget to cover the initial expenses.

However, MSP officials requested the city halt the project in June 2017, while the state was working to decide if they would accept the donation. Their grant was extended to December 2018. Seaver said the recent letter was mostly about getting the city an extension on the grant through 2020.

“The actual point of that letter was to try to get an extension for our grant,” Seaver said, when asked if the letter was to encourage the state to accept the corridor in light of town hall meetings scheduled for next week. “We are hoping they will give an extension for the grant, and draw a little more attention to this thing.”

In 2014, city officials acquired a Right of Entry agreement with Ameren for construction and maintenance that remains in force, and planned to start the scope of the project in spring 2017. Then MSP officials cited a technicality of the grant — that the city could not guarantee the trail would be open and accessible to the public for at least 25 years. 

Until MSP accepted the corridor or the city could make such a guarantee, the projected needed to be on hold.

Seaver received another letter July 6, 2018, from Rebecca Rost, grants management section chief for State Parks, that read,  “given the fact that no Interim Trail Use Agreement has been signed, the (Missouri Trail Advisory Board) recommended that the city withdraw its application and the department de-obligate the funding.”

The letter from Rost states the Missouri Trail Advisory Board (MTAB) made the decision April 7 when they met to discuss current and upcoming trail projects.

In the October 2018 letter, Seaver requested not only the grant extension, but gave MSP a guarantee that the land would be public. He then asked for permission for the city to move forward to build the trail this winter.

“The purpose of this letter is to make clear we guarantee the project will be operational more than 25 years,” Seaver wrote.

The guarantee means that if the corridor should be made private, the city would be responsible to reimburse the amount of the grant, $72,328, to the state of Missouri. The city is not guaranteeing the funds on their own.

During the Aug. 14 city meeting, Greg Harris, executive director of Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc., (MoRIT), told city officials that the William A. Kerr Foundation offered to ensure the grant on behalf of the city.

While city officials were working to extend the grant to 2020, Seaver said they discovered their environmental review that was forwarded by MSP — which would  allow their project to move forward — had been withdrawn by the department.

“We will need the NEPA review reactivated…that MSP withdrew without our knowledge,” Seaver said in the letter.

Seaver also said the city and trail representatives had previously talked to MSP about an extension and were assured it would not be a problem.

“On Jan. 9, 2018, Grants Management Section Chief Dawn Fredrickson told Harris in the presence of MSP Deputy Director Mike Sutherland the December 2018 construction deadline could be easily extended,” Seaver wrote. 

He continued that with Rost’s de-obligation request to the city, she stated their project would be given priority consideration should they apply again.

“Requiring Belle to get back in line and complete a duplicate 10-page application, plus supporting materials is an unacceptable and unnecessary burden,” Seaver said. “Particularly when every delay has been caused by MSP.”

If the city does not receive an answer to their request for extension, they must de-obligate the grant funds or risk being penalized for not completing the project on time.