July 02, 2010

Supes Want Best Use of Both Rails and Trails

By Chris Daley
July 1st, 2010
Democrat staff writer
Train buffs and trail enthusiasts squared off Tuesday as the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors considered a resolution to develop a small rail excursion project near El Dorado. Not really opposing each other's passion, speakers expressed concern about the county's ability to fund extensions of the El Dorado Trail co-located alongside a working rail line.
Supervisor Jack Sweeney, in whose District 3 the project would be undertaken, recommended the resolution authorizing what would be a “living history program of the El Dorado County Historical Museum.” The board authorized development of a railroad park in El Dorado earlier this year, and the excursion train would be part of that project. The county museum houses numerous railroad items and equipment which volunteers have been restoring for many years and which could be relocated to the future railroad park.
After much discussion, parsing of terms, changes in language, the board voted 4-1 to delay a decision on Sweeney's recommendation pending review by local trails and recreation commissions. Sweeney voted no to that delay.
“People have jumped to significant conclusions (that the train would preempt the trail) ... but most importantly, it will not impede the use of the trail in the recreation zone,” Sweeney said. “It's a multi-use facility, and it's preposterous that anyone should think otherwise. If the tracks are removed, it's not multi-use.”
Under a Joint Powers Authority, the Sacramento Placerville Transportation Corridor was acquired from Southern Pacific a number of years ago. The area is designated for multiple use, which includes pedestrian, cycling, equestrian activities as well as a short-run rail line.
Speakers on both sides cited the multi-use designation to bolster their arguments. Trail people said that leaving the tracks in place limited trail development while rail supporters suggested that removing the tracks would effectively eliminate their view of a multi-use facility.
The railroad right of way has been the foundation of much of the El Dorado Trail, and proponents envision it could one day become a Class I biking/hiking trail extending from South Lake Tahoe to Folsom. Tracks were removed between Camino and Diamond Springs to accommodate the El Dorado Trail, but the old rails are still in place from Missouri Flat Road through El Dorado and on down to the county line.
The excursion train would run from some point west of Missouri Flat to the El Dorado Y, and determination of that route is part of the problem. As originally proposed, the train would run about a mile, from Blanchard Road to the “Y.” Under an expanded version, “living history” would run from Missouri Flat for a distance of nearly three miles.
Although county Department of Transportation deputy director Russ Nygaard told the board that the area is generally wide enough for the train and the trail, some trail supporters were skeptical. Nygaard said the right of way is about 60 feet wide at its narrowest and 200 to 250 feet at its widest. The average runs between 100 and 200 feet, he calculated. The terrain, however, includes flat, wide areas as well as relatively steep, rugged stretches. The latter could limit the actual development of side-by-side projects.
Nygaard explained that most, if not all, of the funding is anticipated to come from grant money and estimated a $2 million-$3 million price tag for the rail line and trail. Grant money, however, is not guaranteed. Supervisor Ron Briggs advised that the cost would likely run $1 million per mile, but Nygaard said in his experience, trail development should be considerably less. Much of the work is expected to be done by volunteers who are plentiful in both camps.
Briggs and Supervisor John Knight, however, focused on the potential costs, which Knight called prohibitive to the extent that, “We may never be able to afford it..” Briggs later noted that residents of his district don't want to “see the train become the dominant use” in the recreation zone.
Sweeney pushed for a decision on his recommendation without delay and without further committee review.
“These tracks have sat idle for 20 years,” he said. “And yet we're going to suggest we go study some more... And the tracks will stay idle... All I want to do is allow a temporary use. God knows I don't know about processes in El Dorado County, and I'm sorry I didn't submit this to these other committees.”
He then made a motion for a decision, but it died for lack of a second.
Supervisors Ray Nutting and Norma Santiago agreed that the issue should have been thoroughly vetted by the county's standing committees for trails and recreation before coming to the board for a decision. Their vote to delay the matter until Aug. 3 reflected that position.
E-mail Chris Daley at cdaley@mtdemocrat.net or call (530) 344-5063.

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