Belle trail grant hits potential snag

Roxanne Murphy

BELLE — Missouri State Parks is trying to “deobligate” $72,328 from a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant the city of Belle was awarded in 2014 to develop a trail on the former Rock Island line.

Ameren UE, which owns the former rail line that is in the process of being railbanked, is prepared to turn it over to State Parks — if they want it — for development into a hiking and biking trail. Belle received the RTP grant to develop a portion of trail through the city limits.

Mayor Josh Seaver received the letter from Rebecca Rost, grants management section chief for State Parks, last Friday, July 6. The letter reads “given the fact that no Interim Trail Use Agreement has been signed, the (Missouri Trail Advisory Board) recommended that the city withdraw its application and the department deobligate the funding.”

The letter from Rost states the Missouri Trail Advisory Board (MTAB) made the decision April 7 when they met to discuss current and upcoming trail projects.

“The way it reads to me they are wanting to pull our grant for our part of the trail,” Seaver told Belle aldermen on Monday night.

The grant was awarded to build more than one mile of trail from downtown to the city park and requires a 20 percent match The city’s treasurer has kept $75,328.06 on the books for the project as of June 30, 2018.

The city, Belle Friends of the Trail, Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MORIT) and trail supporters have done much to prepare for the project and keep the corridor clean. 

Rost’s letter says State Parks is still working on their due diligence, but has not yet reached a decision as to whether to proceed.

Rost acknowledged the trail project that facilitated construction of Belle’s proposal (RTP Project No. 2014-07) was revised in October 2016 and put on hold by State Parks in June 2017, then extended through December 1, 2018.

Richard Huse, president of Belle Friends of the Trail and a former alderman, sent Seaver a message Monday and said he was doing some digging on the letter. 

“He said, ‘I talked to a lady today and am mobilizing folks. Don’t do anything right now.’ Don’t panic, basically, is what he (Huse) is telling us,” said Seaver.

Nathan Abel, the city’s public works director, said he thought at one time the city was told if they didn’t use the entirety of the funds on the trail, it could be used on something else.

“That is what Richard is digging into,” Seaver said. “We had an extension, but that all pre-dates me.”

The letter does not give the city an option to utilize their funds for something else. Instead, Rost recommends they begin the process of withdrawing their application for the grant immediately.

“Given the extenuating circumstances that have prevented the city from completing RTP Project No. 2014-07, the board voted to allow the city to receive full points on past performance in the event the city reapplies for RTP funds in the future. After consulting with the Federal Highway Administration, the department concurs with the board’s recommendation and plans to deobligate these funds so they can be made available for other active projects.”

Last June when aldermen were visited by two new State Parks representatives, they were told the city could use the funds for a different project or continue to wait for a decision to be made by the state.

Alderman Jeanette Struemph said they discussed using their trail money for another project and decided to wait another year before they decided what to do.

“Because we were going to keep the money regardless is the way I understood it,” Struemph said.

Abel agreed, saying since the grant began, they were supposed to have until 2020 to use it before it expired. 

Usually, a city would be penalized and ineligible for another grant for five years if they do not complete their project. However, Rost said this project would not be held against them.

“The (State Parks) department certainly understands the unique circumstances surrounding this project and is committed to ensuring that any future grant applications submitted by the city are not affected by this project withdrawal,” Rost said.

Seaver said he spoke with Huse Tuesday for a follow up.

“Evidently the lady that sent this letter has not been there for long,” Seaver said. “When they (aldermen) had the conversation about extending the grant out until 2022 — that lady is still at State Parks, but does not deal with grants any longer.”

Huse is trying to contact the previous lady to tell her what happened.

“Either that lady misunderstood, or did not know what was going down,” Seaver continued. “The people with MORIT are flabbergasted.”

“There are things we could do at the park with that money,” Alderman Ken Stanfield said. “We don’t want to lose it.”

Seaver said Huse was researching for information and he (Seaver) would let the board know where it was at.

“I am not going to give back money that was give (sic) to us,” Seaver said. “There are other things we could use the money for — other bicycle trails around the park.”

Seaver said he thinks the city will still be all right, and it will work itself out.

MORIT officials have said other communities on the proposed Rock Island Trail are watching Belle closely.

Several businesses along the line in Belle, Owensville, Rosebud and Gerald have gone up in the past three years with the trail in mind. For Belle to lose its position as being the first along the 144 miles of line from Windsor to Beaufort to have a completed trail through its city limits would be a huge loss for the community.

MORIT trail supporters in Owensville have said they are keeping an eye on Belle as an example and planned to follow suit with the RTP grant as soon as State Parks gave the go-ahead.