February 22, 2011
Legislature to decide fate of river trail
Cortland County legislators Thursday will once more take up the issue of whether to officially abandon or proceed with the proposed $3 million river trail project.
The Legislature will consider two resolutions: one to begin the next phase of the project despite a shortfall of funds, and one to abandon the proposed 2.7-mile trail that would run from Yaman Park in Cortland to the village of Homer.
In December 2009 the Legislature failed to be decisive when faced with the same choice, passing neither resolution.
But Highway Committee Chair Dave Fuller expects the vote Thursday will have a different outcome.
Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Taylor, Freetown and Willet) said he thinks the Legislature will abandon the project because of a lack of funding.
Fuller said the two resolutions give legislators a chance to vote decisively one way or the other.
Plans for the river trail were first announced in October 2000.
“The public needs to understand the legislators didn’t just have a vote to abandon but they had the authority and opportunity to approve,” Fuller said.
Legislators have been grappling lately with the idea of dropping the project, given doubts about its economic feasibility and the current local fiscal hardships.
Early in January, County Administrator Martin Murphy advised the county to abandon state funds for the project, specifically a $750,000 state grant.
The state Department of State environmental protection fund grant is part of approximately $2.2 million that has been secured for the approximately $3.1 million project.
If Thursday’s resolution to abandon the project passes, the grant money for the project would return to the state.
Fuller said this is not the time to authorize a recreational project that will incur more expenses, such as maintenance costs, in the future. Fuller said there are more crucial expenses, such as the county’s recent decision to borrow $16 million to complete mandated emergency communication system upgrades and the need to build a new dam at Little York Lake.
Fuller said perhaps in the future a river trail can become a reality if the financial situation of the county changes and if funding becomes available.
The county has already spent about $243,000 on forming the trail’s site plans and has received an 80 percent federal reimbursement for the cost of forming the plans.
Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) said a decision must be made on the trail.
Price said she will vote to abandon the project.
“I think it is going to be a very difficult project to fund, especially right on the heels of the interoperable communications system,” Price said.
Price said the larger costs would be maintenance and upkeep of the trail in the long run.
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