William J. Moroney: Forget this Trail to Nowhere

July 11, 2012|By WILLIAM J. MORONEY

I recently attended the meeting held at the Boonsboro Fire Hall regarding the proposed Civil War Rail Trail Bike Path from Hagerstown to Weverton. Interestingly, history indicates the rail bed in question wasn’t constructed until after the Civil War ended, so it is misleading to connect this path to the Civil War. While the supporting commissioners and related parties appear to have done extensive work on this project at taxpayer expense, in their excitement and eagerness to put their name on a special project, they have not done their due diligence.

The plan presenter, Joseph Kroboth, made an interesting comment at the beginning of his presentation which should be a clear alarm to all. Everything involving this project is dependent on funding and the support of future commissioners, including the building of the incremental phases of the trail following the first installment.

This clearly means that if funding is secured for the first phase, the trail could easily result in a dead end if additional funding is not secured for further development of the trail — hence the Trail to Nowhere. The presentation clearly indicated that, while perhaps a last resort in the minds of the proponents, the taxpayers of Washington County are the likely “local” funding source.

Let’s be realistic — private, corporate and nonprofit funding is limited in these economic times. In the midst of high unemployment, significantly lower home values, foreclosures galore, the closing and/or reduction of services to citizens who need help such as the elderly, is it prudent to raise taxes or divert tax dollars to build this trail when there is already a wide and paved shoulder on roads leading from Hagerstown to Weverton?

There is a significant difference between the C&O Towpath and the proposed Civil War Rail Trail, and that is the land to which the trails abut or traverse.

The C&O goes through parkland for the most part, while the proposed Civil War Rail Trail will go through and/or be adjacent to private property.

The bucolic ideal of trail users joyfully riding their bikes past our homes will be marred by the reality of these same users relieving themselves against the trees and plants in our yards. 

Not to mention these same users knocking on our doors, some within 20 feet of the trail, for water or an ambulance or to find safe haven from a human predator.

In addition, what responsibility will land owners bear for trail users wandering onto their private property and being injured by livestock, dogs, falling in holes, etc?

I see an immediate increase in the insurance costs of property owners within walking distance of the trail.

Speaking of responsibility, will the residents of Washington County be taxed for the increase in insurance premiums to cover the county for potential litigation related to accidents, injuries and/or deaths to trail users? To mitigate this exposure, will the commissioners approve additional funding to build an 8-foot-high privacy fence along both sides of the trail to prevent users from wandering onto private property?

Will the commissioners approve funds to provide these same property owners with financial settlements for loss of property value or allow them to immediately convert their property zoning to commercial in order to start businesses to take advantage of the loudly touted economic boom the trail will bring?

The proposed $16 million cost to build the trail and the $60,000 annual upkeep costs are unrealistic. The trail construction is proposed to be complete in 2040, which is 28 years from now. Do you honestly think the cost of building materials and labor will remain constant for 28 years?

This financial plan is seriously flawed and, much like Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere, will come back to haunt the county and the Commissioners that support this project. Yes, as elected officials, each of you is responsible to all the people you represent. This means if you are derelict in your duties, do not do your due diligence and do not operate in a transparent and forthright manner, you are collectively and personally liable for your actions.

I have always felt that if you are really committed to a cause, you should be willing to put up your own money toward making your dream come true.  If the proponents of this project believe it is so important, then as a sign of good faith and commitment, I recommend that the commissioners and other individuals in favor of this project, sign over a minimum of 50 percent of their assets to an irrevocable trust established to fund the entire project, pay for the perpetual maintenance and cover the loss of value to property owners as well as the cost of insurance, litigation and settlements. Put your money where your mouth is instead of taking it from my pocket.

In fact, I will put my money where my mouth is by offering to purchase a park bench instead of building the trail and have a nameplate put on it for the commissioners that support this boondoggle of a project. We can call it the Civil War Park Bench and people can enjoy sitting on it all day long and you can have your special project of which to be proud.

William J. Moroney is a resident of Keedysville.

The Herald-Mail Articles