The Augusta City Council approved a line donation agreement with Butler County at its meeting last week.
The Butler County Commission approved a quit claim deed recently 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 does not give Augusta any ownership to the land. It merely allows Augusta to manage this portion of the right of way.
“Technically, you couldn’t sell it,” said Butler County Economic Development Director David Alfaro. He said this agreement was similar to others the county has signed and 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.
Councilor Mike Rawlings confirmed with Alfaro that the county would still own the river crossing and the abandoned line from the river to Andover west of Augusta.
“Good,” Rawlings said. “We don’t want to get stuck taking care of the river.”
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 that 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.”