Who will govern the trail?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 7, 2002

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Thursday, February 07, 2002

A $2.5 million bonding bill and the addition of Freeborn County and Hayward to a joint-powers agreement are on the agenda for tonight’s Blazing Star bike trail joint powers board meeting.

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During the meeting, starting at 7 p.m. at Albert Lea city hall, the board will discuss how to push the $2.5 million bonding bill being introduced in the state legislative session. The board will also consider including Freeborn County and Hayward in the joint powers agreement. Freeborn County would reserve its decision about membership in the cooperative until concerns about liability and financial burden are cleared, while Hayward is ready to join.

The construction of the trail connecting Albert Lea and Austin was proposed by bike-loving citizens in the region. Albert Lea and Austin signed the joint powers agreement last year to promote the project with a plan of future inclusion of Freeborn and Mower counties and Hayward.

The joint-powers board is an administrative body that governs the trail.

But Mower County voted to stay out of the joint-powers agreement last week, showing concern about a possible financial obligation for the project.

While the appropriation from the bonding being discussed in the state legislature would cover the construction cost, the joint-powers agreement states the board would request funds from member governments for a preliminary survey; legal, engineering and professional services to address trail routing; land acquisition; and cost estimates.

Freeborn County’s position on the trail project is ambivalent.

The county board approved a letter of support last October but has not decided if it would become a part of the joint powers group.

&uot;The trail is a good idea and we want to support it,&uot; said Freeborn County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen. &uot;But at the same time we have to consider a potential liability the county would have by participating the joint powers.&uot;

Freeborn County highway department director Sue Miller pointed out that the trail is going across county roads and may incur expenditures for the county to equip signs and other safety measures.

In contrast, Hayward Mayor Willis Pfieffer said, &uot;We feel we should be involved in the joint powers to boost the project. A lot of people are anxious for the trail.&uot;

Craig Hoium, ex-officio member of the joint powers board, said the inclusion of the counties is not absolutely essential to advance the project. But he expressed his concern that the departure of Mower County and the possible absence of Freeborn County from the joint powers would affect the discussion of the bonding bill in St. Paul.