Sabetha City Commission: Walking Trail discussion tabled
Safety was the major concern among all community members present at the Sabetha City Commission meeting Monday night, Oct. 9. Many were present to express their opinions on a walking trail proposed to create a safer path of travel along Sixth Street, one of the busiest streets in Sabetha. Though some individuals present were against the trail for various reasons, they were not in disagreement with those in favor of the trail that streets and sidewalks needed to be safer throughout the city.
Sabetha’s proposed walking trail was one of 34 projects awarded grant money as part of the Kansas Department of Transportation’s “Transportation Alternatives Projects.” The grant requires the city pick up a portion of the tab for the project — $271,200.
Commissioners listened to patrons on both sides of the trail at Monday’s meeting. The discussion did not result in a decision to accept the grant and proceed with the walking trail project, but instead was tabled for two weeks.
Present for the meeting were Mayor Doug Clark, Commissioners Norm Schmitt, Nick Aberle, Maridel Wittmer and Julie Burenheide, City Administrator Doug Allen, Assistant City Administrator Bill Shroyer and City Clerk Steve Compo.
In 2015, representatives from Grow Sabetha formed a committee to work on developing a walking trail within the city. The group surveyed community members. Survey results indicated that community members desired a safe walking trail. The Walking Trail Committee members discovered a grant available through the Kansas Department of Transportation which would pay for a portion of the trail. If accepted, Sabetha’s trail could be connected to a larger trail — the Yellow Brick Trail — traveling through Northeast Kansas, connecting cities and points of interest.
The Walking Trail Committee proposed a trail that travels north on Sixth Street from Main Street and circles around the Sports Complex. The trail originally crossed Sixth Street twice — at Roosevelt Street and Lincoln Street. Over the last few years, many individuals have expressed concern over the location of the trail and the cost the city would incur. The trail now only runs along the east side of Sixth Street.
Despite expressed concerns, the city voted at a November 2015 meeting to proceed with the KDOT grant application, 4-1, with Commissioner Julie Burenheide opposed.
If received, the KDOT grant would cover up to 80 percent of the cost of the first phase of the walking trail. The remaining 20 percent would be covered by the city. The estimated cost of the project as originally submitted, was $1.3 million. Approximately $400,000 of that would be the city’s responsibility.
This fall, the Committee submitted the application to KDOT for the second time — and a portion of the project was approved. The portion approved begins at Main Street and goes north on Sixth Street to the ball park. The proposed trail still crosses Sixth Street at Roosevelt Street and at Lincoln Street. The second part of the trail — around the Sports Complex — was not approved at this time, but can be applied for again.
KDOT announced last week that it awarded $18 million in Transportation Alternatives Projects. Sabetha’s walking trail was one of 34 projects that received a grant. KDOT awarded $299,760 to go toward a $570,960 walking trail in Sabetha. The city must match the remaining funds — $271,200. See related article on the KDOT grants on page 8A of this week’s Herald.
City Administrator Allen said the commission’s task Monday night was to consider approving moving forward with the project and accepting the grant money from KDOT.
Commissioner Schmitt asked why the grant states that it is an “80/20” match when the numbers presented do not represent that match. The grant money that would be awarded — $299,760 — and the money that the city would have to commit to — $271,200 — were more of a “53/47” match, Schmitt said.
Allen explained that KDOT would not cover any moving of utilities, anything crossing the railroad tracks or the design of the trail. Those parts of the trail project would come out of the city’s pocket. Allen said that the city would be reimbursed as the project progressed.
City Administrator Allen distributed copies of the trail path to commissioners. The trail, Allen said, would travel up the east side of Sixth Street and on the north side of Lincoln Street. It would travel up to the NorthRidge Church parking lot on the west side. The width of the trail would be five feet wide on Sixth Street and anything off the street would be 10 feet wide, as would the portion on the north side of Lincoln.
Commissioner Wittmer asked whether property owners along the path had been notified about the trail. Allen said no.
“Shouldn’t they be contacted if it is taking up part of their yard?” Commissioner Burenheide asked.
“I feel property owners should know this is happening,” Wittmer said.
Allen replied that “it’s just a sidewalk,” but Wittmer said she still felt they should be notified.
Commissioner Burenheide referenced a statement made by Commissioner Schmitt at the June 12 commission meeting, when he referred to a Kansas statute requiring pedestrians and bikers to use a trail if it was available.
Schmitt did not have a copy of the statute with him, but said it was his understanding that if there is a biking trail or walking trail available, it must be used or tickets could be issued.
“Will we enforce this?” Burenheide asked.
Sabetha Police Chief Robert Wahwasuck was present and said he did not know.
“This is a small town, so we don’t exactly do things by the book as we should,” Wahwasuck said. “We do what works best for our community.”
Concerns – Trail Safety
Safety was the top concern among all present. Burenheide questioned the safety of this trail, specifically at the railroad crossing.
“We haven’t gotten to that yet,” Allen said. “To get Union Pacific to even look at it, you have to put in $5,000 for a study.”
Wittmer asked why the state would give the grant before a study was done.
“I think they justify that by saying they aren’t covering that portion anyway,” Schmitt said.
Approximately $135,000 of the city’s $271,200 portion would go toward the railroad crossing, Allen said, but that is a high estimate.
Patron Julie Krebs read a prepared statement, outlining several safety concerns. She posed several questions to the commission, including, “Can people be seen? Whose liability is it if they fall on the sidewalk? What safeguards are in place? Who maintains the sidewalk during inclement weather? How will maintenance be enforced?”
“This grant that we were approved for — it’s a safety grant,” Melissa Detweiler said. “It’s only from Main Street to the ball park. Your concerns are very valid. KDOT’s portion does not include any of that loop [around the ball park]. We can split hairs on what we are calling it, but it is a sidewalk from Main to the ball fields.”
Concerns – Trail Location
Throughout the grant process, the location of the trail along Sixth Street has been a point of contention.
Krebs pointed out that the trail does not encompass the Aquatic Center nor the proposed wellness center that will be located on Oregon Street.
“The city is already invested in resources along Sixth with the ballparks and Splash Park. All those resources are aimed at kids,” Mike Bosworth said. “Getting those kids up the street should be a priority. Realistically, we know we can’t address the entire city all at once, but that is one place where a lot of kids are going up the street.”
Mike Bosworth also said that, over time, there would be ways to get these points connected, but that the city had to start somewhere.
“How are we going to address the foot traffic going up Sixth?” Mike Bosworth said. “There are questions about why this is not going by the hospital or up Oregon. These are legitimate questions, but we can’t do it all at once. Right now, we can start with nearly $300,000 from the state. Why we would pass that up is beyond me.”
Bob Champlin asked what it would take for the commission to take action.
“Is it going to take someone getting really hurt or dying for you to take action?” he said. “This seems like a good place to start, and we have funds to help us out. I’m concerned about the health of our kids.”
“In listening to this discussion, I see a lot of value in this,” Ann Busch said. “But, I want a commitment from the city that some kind of plan is formed for the infrastructure for our city — the roads and sidewalks. The safety of the rest of the community also should be considered. We have the right to be safe walking on sidewalks and roads. It’s not simply one project, the Sixth Street trail.”
Concerns – Enforcing City Codes/Fixing Streets and Sidewalks
Krebs said she felt the commission should spend money to work on enforcing city codes — specifically sidewalk codes. She proposed that instead of Police Chief Wahwasuck being responsible for code enforcement that the city should use the $271,200 to hire a code enforcement officer.
“Your responsibility as city administration and commissioners is to do what is right for all of Sabetha, not just special groups,” Krebs said. “A code enforcement officer can help Sabetha be what everyone wants.”
“Who would pay for the sidewalks if codes were enforced?” Zack Goodman asked.
Allen said it would fall on the property owners.
Burenheide asked what was the code on sidewalks.
“The code says to put sidewalks in, but we have never enforced it,” Allen said.
“So that falls back into your court,” Burenheide said to Allen.
Mayor Clark indicated that it would be a large project to force people to put in sidewalks.
Krebs suggested sectioning off the city and doing it over a period of time.
“We got in this mess over a period of time. It will take time to fix it,” she said.
Krebs again emphasized that there should be a person in charge of code enforcement.
“We have codes for a reason. They need to be enforced. Somebody needs to step up, i.e. the city council and city administration,” she said. “It’s time for you guys to take responsibility as city commissioners and the city administrator and assistant city administrator. We’re asking you to do this. That’s why Grow Sabetha started. This isn’t just about a walking path.”
Detweiler said code enforcement is an excellent and valid point, but that money would still have to be spent to make Sixth Street safer.
“The grant will help offset the rest of the cost of the sidewalk between Main Street and the ball park,” she said.
Mike Bosworth said he felt that code enforcement and the grant are two separate things.
“If you’re going to require everyone to put in sidewalks, that is just another way to sabotage the trail,” he said.
Concerns – Turning Down Grant
Patrons also voiced concerns over turning down the KDOT grant at this point.
“As a commission, you voted for this twice to approve it,” Detweiler said. “If you turn it down now, it creates a lot of distrust within the community and that causes me personally to lose a lot of faith.”
Burenheide said that the commission did not approve the project, but approved applying for the grant for the project.
“If we turn this down, we run the risk of not ever getting approved again,” Detweiler said.
Virginia Dientsbier said she felt it would be “foolish” to turn down the grant money just because a “few people don’t like it.”
“If you turn one [grant] down, you have a black mark,” she said. “Quite frankly, I don’t see the problem with accepting this and making it safer.”
Marlene Bosworth said she didn’t feel like other area communities such as Seneca and Hiawatha would pass up the grant monies they received.
After the lengthy discussion, Mayor Clark suggested discussion be tabled for two weeks.
“Doug [Allen], I see some merit in looking at code enforcement throughout the city. Can you put together some numbers on how we could go about doing that?”
Allen said he would look into it. Clark also asked Allen to look into some of the other things that were suggested. No one knew if there was a deadline on accepting the grant, so the discussion was tabled.
Also at the meeting:
Commissioners approved the Sept. 25 minutes. Commissioners also approved the Wellness Center Design/Build Contract with AHRS Construction. This allows AHRS to begin designing the Center.
Police Chief Robert Wahwasuck presented his report.
The next regular commission meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, at City Hall.
Krista Wasinger99 Posts
Krista Wasinger is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2011. She specializes in city reporting and feature stories, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Krista is a 2004 Fort Hays State University graduate with a degree in communications studies with an emphasis in journalism. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and four children.