The Augusta City Council will consider an agreement with Butler County Monday night.
If it is approved, neither side is really sure exactly what Augusta is going to get or how much difference it will make in the long run.
The Butler County Commission approved a quit claim deed Tuesday to turn the old Frisco right-of-way between the Whitewater River and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad right of way over to the City of Augusta.
This quit claim deed doesn’t not give Augusta any ownership to the land. It merely allows Augusta to manage this portion of the right of way.
According to a story in the El Dorado Times, Butler County Economic Development Director David Alfaro said this would allow Augusta access to the right of way for the Sculpture Walk trail that would potentially be funded by a grant Downtown Augusta Inc. has applied for.
“What this will do is give them access and ownership,” said Alfaro. “Augusta has requested the quit claim deed.”
According to the memo to the governing body from City Manager Bill Keefer, “In essence, the City is not acquiring this property fee simple and the title is subject to the National Trails System Act.”
There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the National Trails System Act which in part led to the Rails to Trails program.
Many landowners who had railroads running through a portion of their property insist that the adjacent landowners have always owned the land and the railroads only had a right of way for rail service. It is currently being argued in federal courts and on appeal that using the railroad right of way for a second purpose should require a second action. They argue the right of way should return to the landowners instead of being conferred to cities and counties along the route.
Norman Manley, attorney for the County Commission said his understanding is that the court found that the adjacent landowners had no right to the land but in some cases had a right to sue for damages from the Department of Justice which governs railways in the United States.
“The county agreed to confer to Augusta exactly what it has,” Manly said. “That is the use of right of way.”
In Andover, the council is not interested in quit claim deeds for the right of way through their city according to City Administrator Sasha Stiles.
She said the potential exists for a walking and biking trail through Andover and some discussions have been held to connect the two communities although those communications have been very preliminary.
Page 2 of 2 - “What matters to us is the Notice of Interim Trail Use agreement we have that says we have the right to use the land for that purpose,” Stiles said.
The Augusta City Council will consider their agreement with the county at Monday night’s meet ng at 7 p.m. in City Hall.