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Business & Economics

State delays decision on rail-to-trail project

A map of the proposed Tabor to Platte Rail-to-Trail and wider regional network
Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail
A map of the proposed Tabor to Platte Rail-to-Trail and wider regional network.

Two state transportation organizations say it's premature to make a decision on whether to support a proposed rail-to-trail project in rural southeast South Dakota.

The Railroad Board and Department of Transportation announced the delayed decision Wednesday after hearing from supporters and opponents of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail.

The people who spoke during the public comment portion of a meeting in Pierre included local government and economic development officials, as well as business owners, landowners and farmers along the proposed route.

Bob Foley with the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail asked the board and DOT to create a statement in support of two studies and a demonstration trail. He also asked the organizations to agree to cooperate on the full trail if the studies and demonstration trail are positive.

The trail group is applying for a $775,000 grant that would pay for a feasibility and master plan study for the entire project. The grant would also pay for constructing a 5-mile demonstration trail from Ravinia to Lake Andes.

The funding would be from an Economic Development Administration grant that focuses on transformational recreation projects.

Foley said the board and DOT would not yet be committing to building the entire trail, which would cost around $2.5 million. The full trail would also need approval from the governor and federal government.

Board members and DOT officials said it was too early to decide whether to support the project.

"Is it premature for the board to commit to the demonstration project before seeing the outcome of the feasibly study," one official said.

Supporters of the trail said it will provide both recreational and economic development opportunities. They said it could be used by locals and the increasing number of tourists to the Missouri River region.

"My experience is that people using these type of trails enjoy stopping in small towns along the way to get drinks, food and browse the local shops," said Roger Huizenga, a semi-retired rancher who lives near Platte.

Some government officials expressed concerns about being sued if people injure themselves along the trail. Some landowners and farmers have public safety concerns and said the trail will shrink and interfere with their farming land, cattle ranges and hunting areas.

"I don't see why we would go against all the property owners — who four generations ago made the towns — to let strangers in our backyard," said Michael Vandenbos, whose family farm is along the proposed trail.

One petition gathered more than 200 signatures from people against the project.