‘Scott is living in a fantasy world’

Tuesday, August 8, 2017
(Sentinel Photo by Thomas Schreiber) PlyWood Trail Executive Board Member Greg Grupp addresses members of the Sioux City City Council at its Monday meeting. The council voted unanimously to extend its support for a portion of the proposed trail.

PLYMOUTH CO. — In a unanimous vote by the Sioux City city council at its Monday meeting, the council extended its support for a portion of the proposed PlyWood Trail project.

The council’s vote cemented Sioux City’s intention to assume ownership, sponsorship and maintenance of the trail from within Sioux City limits to Hinton’s southern city limits.

Sioux City now becomes the fourth city entity, behind Le Mars, Hinton and Merrill, to vote in favor of similar measures.

Action taken at Monday’s council meeting means Sioux City will fund approximately 1.5 miles of the 16-mile trail inside its city limits and will own the portion of trail between city limits and Hinton. However, the City of Sioux City will not be responsible for funding the Sioux City to Hinton segment of trail.

“What we’re here today to do is to solicit your support for the PlyWood Trail via a letter of intent to negotiate and collaborate with the cities of Hinton, Merrill, and Le Mars to sponsor, own, control, and maintain that portion of the PlyWood Trail within the city corporate limits of Sioux City and north to the Hinton south corporate limits,” said PlyWood Trail Executive Board Member Greg Grupp. “The PlyWood Committee has provided Sioux City staff with other examples whereby Iowa cities have actually owned trail outside of their city corporate limits and how that might be accomplished.”

Grupp noted representatives from the three cities in Plymouth County affected by the trail, along with PlyWood Trail executive board members, were present at the meeting to show their support.

Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott added his own voice of support, and thanked the cities of Le Mars, Hinton and Merrill.

“Unfortunately, the supervisors in both our areas don’t see the value of this trail system, which to me is terribly unfortunate that they wouldn’t be partners in this project,” Scott said. “That’s very unfortunate because trails make a huge difference in economic development. There’s nobody that can tell you they don’t.”

In an interview after the meeting, Plymouth County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Kass had a decidedly different view on the economic development opportunity provided by the trail.

“I’ve often heard it said that trails of this nature somehow create an economic boom, and that is the exact reverse of reality,” Kass said. “I’ve spoken to public officials in places that have bike trails. When you’re talking about something of this magnitude, $16-22 million, which will be the real cost of this bike trail, you’ll have cottage industries that spring up around certain segments of the bike trail, but in no way, shape or form are you going to have major businesses spring up only because there is a bike trail.”

“The bike trail constitutes an element of recreation, which frankly the usage of it is never going to be high enough in a population base like we have here. It’s never going to be high enough to justify the initial cost or the maintenance. Mayor Scott is living in a fantasy world,” Kass continued.

When the Daily Sentinel reached out to Scott for a response on Kass’ comments, Scott declined with a “no comment”.

With the issue of exact cost still in question, PlyWood trail officials continued to skirt around firm numbers for the project, only addressing the maintenance cost.

“Our goal, mission and objective is to raise private money to fund the design and development of trail. Not only that, we are intent upon on an endowment to support ongoing maintenance of the trail,” Grupp said. “Our estimates range somewhere between $900-1,200 per mile of trail to maintain it. Our goal is to raise a $500,000 endowment, that if we do a 5 percent distribution every year which should be sustainable, that would provide about $1,500 per mile of trail for maintenance going forward.

“Our intent is to design and develop that portion of the PlyWood Trail within Plymouth County jurisdiction with private equity, and no local taxpayer dollars,” Grupp continued.

According to Kass, the $1,500 per mile per year figure doesn’t even cover the health insurance policy of a single maintenance worker.

Grupp announced landowners along the proposed PlyWood Trail project would have a chance to have their voices heard at two meetings next week.

One will be held from 6-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the Hinton Community Center, 205 West Main St., with the second to be held from 6-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 17 at the Kissinger Center, 608 Main St., Merrill.

“We’ll have representatives from the trail committee and from our engineering firm there to speak about it,” Grupp said. “To really talk about a defined trail route, we really needed to first identify ownership. In the works today, our hope is to minimize or mitigate the concerns of area landowners by using DOT right-of-way versus easement and acquisition of private land, for the vast majority of the route.”

Scott said he hopes the meetings will clear up some of the rumors and confusion going around about the project.

“I already had a landowner call me and say it’s going to cut across their property 100 feet in and all of that. I know that’s not the case, but of course when you have a project of this magnitude, there are all kinds of things out there that aren’t true,” Scott said.

Kass agreed that the wrong information can be spread, but he added there are very real concerns about the route.

“In general, Bob Scott’s statement is correct on a lot of big projects, but that doesn’t mean he’s right in this case,” Kass said. “I’ve seen the initial proposal for the route and it does cut across private land in places. There are significant concerns by landowners along the trail in general.”

Plymouth County Supervisor Craig Anderson said he takes issue with the way the process of approaching landowners has been handled.

“I’ve been going to PlyWood meetings for over five years, and one of my complaints from the very beginning was they already had the route in their mind. Maybe they hadn’t engineered it, but they knew where they wanted to go and to this date, they have never had a landowner meeting,” Anderson said. “They’ve known the people they’re going to impact, and they’ve continued to ignore their concerns. They’re absolutely right, there has been a lot of misinformation because they have refused to have a public meeting and keep the public informed of what they planned to do and what they liked to do.

“I’m not opposed to the trail in itself, but I’ve been very opposed to the manner in which they’ve tried to do this without informing the public,” Anderson continued.

For Kass it all comes down to usage rate versus trail cost.

“If you add the population of Plymouth and Woodbury counties together, it’s 127,000 people roughly,” he said. “When you’re talking about a bike trail of 16 miles down a four-lane highway more or less, in an area that’s really not all that scenic, there’s no way they can justify the cost for this. The public needs to know what the real cost of this is going to be. I’m not against the trail, and if all of this can be funded through private money and donations, then more power to them.”

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