After nearly five hours of testimony, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, Monday, opted to defer a decision on “rails versus trails” due to a technicality.
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Continuing the issue to its Dec. 7 meeting, the board pulled back from the brink of a vote and referred the matter to county counsel to make sure a resolution today would not conflict with a resolution passed in 2003. At issue was the act of declaring what should be the “priority use” of the old railroad right of way that stretches from Placerville to the Sacramento County line. Currently nine miles of that right of way make up the El Dorado Trail.
Supporters of the trail and rail enthusiasts packed the board chambers and spoke passionately for their visions of the future use of the area to which the county has quasi-ownership. None of the speakers suggested that a board resolution should exclude the opposing views of what the trail should be, but most held strong positions of how to go forward with its usage.
While the resolution would specify that the priority usage would be hiking, biking and equestrian activities, supervisors struggled with the notion that they not preclude the possibility of future excursion trains, rail museums and related uses.
Under the federal rails to trails legislation, the right of way may be used for other purposes, but in the event that future need or demand for commercial railroad transport becomes viable, the right of way reverts to that purpose.
Rail buffs, particularly those favoring historical or excursion train use, expressed concern that if the board were to set the other uses as priorities, the rails could be removed, thereby dimming the chances of future rail use and causing the right of way to be ceded back to the original property owners. Currently, rails are still in place from Missouri Flat Road in Diamond Springs to the county line.
Supervisor John Knight eventually explained that the resolution to set priorities said nothing about pulling up the rails, and other supervisors noted that they would not vote for any resolution that did.
“I personally don’t have much faith in excursion trains because of the number of times someone uses them versus those using the trail every day… and I don’t think there will ever be demand for commercial rail transportation again, but ripping up the rails is not in the plan…” Knight said.
The right of way varies from about 60 feet to about 200 feet in width, and those involved generally believe that there is ultimately room for both non-motorized and rail use. Both sides have already compromised on a number of issues and both gave the board the notion that compromise was possible and desirable in the future.
Jackie Neau, a member of Friends of the El Dorado Trail, did a brief PowerPoint presentation describing trails in general as meeting three important criteria, health, community and safe pathways. Citing some statistics, she noted that “kids today may not outlive their parents” due to obesity and a myriad of other problems. She said trails provide safe pathways for children riding their bikes to school and for moms with strollers and dog walkers as well as specialty groups such as geo-cachers — all of which enhances a sense of community.
Nolan Adams, a volunteer with the railroad museum, said he was concerned about pulling up the rails, and he read a recent editorial by the Mountain Democrat into the public record. The Democrat urged development of both rail and non-motorized use of the trail — but not rail removal.
The board will revisit the issue Dec. 7 after county counsel has compared the proposed resolution with that in the 2003 trails segment of the county General Plan. If there are no glaring inconsistencies, especially regarding California Environmental Quality Act issues, supervisors indicated they would probably support the current resolution to make hiking, biking and equestrian use the trail priorities.