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Western Railroad Discussion > MKT Bridge at Booneville, MO

Date: 10/29/07 14:09
MKT Bridge at Booneville, MO
Author: gmp12

The following is attributed to the Kansas City Star of this date. The bridge battle continues.
Sun, Oct. 28, 2007 10:15 P

Political currents run fast under the Katy Trail Bridge at Boonville

The Boonville lift bridge on the Katy Trail has been the subject of much political and legal wrangling.

If Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon were to say the sky was purple, Gov. Matt Blunt would claim it was emerald green instead.
But then, Democrat Nixon hopes to unseat the Republican Blunt in next year’s election, and so they would disagree on virtually everything.
And on no issue are their differences more pronounced than in a very public legal dispute concerning an old railroad bridge over the Missouri River at Boonville.
It’s kind of complicated, so here’s the Cliffs Notes version:
The Union Pacific Railroad wants to dismantle the Boonville lift bridge and move the steel somewhere else, since no one’s used the span in many years.
Blunt is just fine with that — even if it means that the state would relinquish any claim it might have to the bridge for future use as part of the Katy Trail.
Why keep it, Blunt asks. Hikers and bikers on the Katy now use a highway bridge to get across the river at Boonville. So go ahead, he told the railroad, take the bridge.
However, Nixon has been fighting the move for a couple of years now in court. He argues that moving the bridge would jeopardize the very existence of the Katy Trail, since the bridge was part of the rail corridor that begat the Katy.
Therefore, Nixon accuses Blunt of being grossly irresponsible for wanting to let go of the bridge without a fight.
To that, Blunt and members of his administration say “phooey.” Nixon is full of beans, they claim, and a worry wart to boot.
The Blunt appointee who heads the state Department of Natural Resources said last week that he is “confident that the Katy Trail would not be jeopardized if the bridge were removed.”
As an outsider looking in, you don’t know what to think, other than politics is being played on one or both sides with one of Missouri’s leading tourist attractions.
And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that when two politicos take such diametrically opposed positions on a single issue, it suggests one thing:
They’re both full of it.
And that’s the case here, according to experts on both sides of the issue.
Absent a crystal ball, no one can know for sure what might happen to the Katy Trail should the bridge come down.
Last week’s Missouri Court of Appeals ruling was silent on the issue. All the three-judge panel looked at was whether or not the state has a claim to the bridge. The appeals judges said “no.”
We’ll see if the state Supreme Court agrees.
But not even the Supremes are likely to offer much clarity as to whether the 225-mile Katy Trail is in danger of dismemberment without the bridge, says Bruce Morrison, a lawyer with the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center in St. Louis.
“I grit my teeth” when partisans on either side claim to know with certainty what the ramifications of the bridge turnover might be, he said.
Admittedly, the group Morrison works for thinks Blunt is being too cavalier in arguing that the fate of the bridge has no bearing on the future of the Katy.
But Morrison also agrees that Nixon might be hyperventilating when he asserts that the bridge’s removal would undermine the legal standing for the entire trail.
In fact, we won’t know who is right until the bridge is dismantled, if it is. And only then if another lawsuit were filed.
The basis for such a lawsuit could be that when railroads were first built in this country, landowners were often forced to let the tracks pass through their property. In return the railroads promised that the land would revert back to the original owners if the rail line were ever abandoned.

The Boonville lift bridge on the Katy Trail has been the subject of much political and legal wrangling.
The only reason trails such as the Katy can exist is because the rail corridors they use are technically not abandoned in the legal sense, even if the tracks have been removed.
Theoretically, a railroad could be built along the Katy Trail someday, as long as the corridor stays intact.
But what about a missing bridge?
With it gone, how long would it be before some landowner sued for the return of “his land” because there was no way for a train to cross the river?
And if such a suit were filed, how might it turn out?
Blunt and Nixon claim to know what would happen, but they don’t, because nothing like it has ever happened before.
“Not on this type of issue,” says Richard Welsh, executive director of the leading organization opposed to the rails-to-trails movement. (It goes by the catchy name, the National Association of Reversionary Property Owners.)
One thing is for certain, Welsh and Morrison agree.
If this does finally result in a showdown for the Katy, so many years will have passed before the final appeal is heard that neither Nixon nor Blunt would still be governor.
Some might call that fortunate.
At least in Blunt’s case, I’d call it convenient.

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