Just moments ago Washington County’s State Senator Christopher Shank released a statement indicating his strong opposition to the construction of a biking trail that would bisect yards and farms for nearly 24 miles in Washington County at a cost to taxpayers of at minimum $1 million per mile.
Here is Senator Shank’s full statement:
Senator Christopher B. Shank
Statement on Proposed Civil War Trail
Over the past several months, my office has received a considerable amount of emails, letters, and phone calls regarding the proposed Civil War Rail Trail to run from Hagerstown to Southern Washington County. While I commend the citizens who have worked on this project and understand their desire to increase the amount of recreational trails available to our citizens, I am opposed to this project for a number of reasons.
At the outset, it is important to note that our county is blessed with a tremendous bounty of natural resources. Our citizens and visitors currently enjoy the Appalachian Trail, the C&O Canal towpath, and the Western Maryland Rail Trail. These trails encompass 140 miles of trails, not to mention countless more available throughout the county in our beautiful federal, state, and local parks. Efforts to expand and enhance these existing trails should take precedence.
Private Property Rights
Nothing has changed since this project was first contemplated and dismissed in the 1990s. Unlike the aforementioned trails, this abandoned rail line runs directly through and beside a considerable number of private residences. If this project moves forward, the County would be transforming miles of private spaces to a public right-away. This is why the community has so many concerns about their privacy and land rights.
Constructing a paved trail, landscaping, and fencing will prove to be a major inconvenience to these citizen’s lives. However that will pale in comparison to the intrusion of privacy that thousands of cyclists and walkers would cause. Having these well meaning recreation seekers innocently peering into backyards and perhaps even bedrooms is simply unacceptable to the people that I represent, making the enjoyment of their property subject to the traffic on the trail.
The potential for adverse confrontations and accidents is present as well. A few weeks ago, an 80 year old woman and holocaust survivor was struck and killed in Washington by a bicyclist in a tragic accident on a trail. Every time someone backs out of their driveway or crosses with a tractor to their field, the potential would exist for a tragedy.
The issue of liability looms large throughout this discussion. In order to provide continued access to property, allowances would have to be made for residents to cross the trail with their vehicles and farming equipment. This drastically increases the liability for these individuals as well as the county. Hunting and farming operations increase the potential for conflicts along the trail making it even more incompatible for this proposed use.
Maintaining the present access is crucial to the residents in Southern Washington County and a trail development makes this problematic. A change of use as simple as opening a business or building a shed would require approval from the owner of the trail, be it the State or the County.
In addition to the liability issues, there remains a series of very thorny issues related to the actual ownership of the trail dating back to the original charter to the railroad. These legal issues have real consequences. In the last iteration of this trail controversy, a constituent was denied a bank loan because he could not prove access to his property. An improved rail trail with fencing would compound such problems.
Finally, it should be noted that the middle section of the trail poses several corporate and public ownership issues. The working CSX rail line from Conservit to Oak Ridge represents a large problem that must be resolved. In addition, the portion of the line north of Breathedsville through the Division of Correction property simply cannot be used for public recreation as it would pose an unacceptable security risk. Detouring traffic in this portion out to MD 65 would be a traffic safety issue and defeat the purpose of this trail.
We live in challenging times for financing governmental operations. Austerity rightly is a necessary component to our discussions. One of the key hurdles in developing this project in the past was the extensive amount of money it would cost. That hasn’t changed, only increased for inflation.
The reported $16 million to develop the trails is dramatically understated. According to a DNR survey of the rail bed, twenty three bridges would be required to be build or re-constructed over at least three creeks, including Antietam Creek. Each bridge must be built to accommodate emergency vehicles and would require substantial environmental safeguards in this extremely sensitive area.
The operations cost would accrue to the County and would also be a significant drain on resources based on past experiences. The Department of Natural Resources has already stated that they have no money for the capital or operating costs of this project. One proposal to allow advertising to help with the financing has given neighbors considerable heartburn. Any actual economic development accruing to such a project would be negligible and not come close to recovering the capital or operations cost of the project
The encroachment into the private spaces of my constituents, considerable liability issues, and excessive cost and logistical difficulties make this project untenable. Similarly, starting the project in phases should not be contemplated. There were compelling reasons that DNR halted the project in the 90s and it should not be restarted.
There are numerous other cost-effective and publicly supported projects to increase our county’s inventory of walking and riding trails. These opportunities should continue to be pursued and this project once more removed from consideration.
Readers unfamiliar with this issue should visit our Washington County Rail-Trail category, here.
Attend the public meeting in Boonsboro this evening, beat the heat and sign up early to speak, here.