CORVALLIS, Ore. – Some Benton County residents are concerned about plans for the Bailey Branch Corridor after the county released its suggestions regarding the rail line’s future use.
Benton County purchased 17.7 miles of an old rail line from Union Pacific for $486,000 in October. It runs south of Corvallis towards Monroe, then west towards Hull-Oakes Lumber. Ultimately, the county wants to restore rail service, but the question remains: what to do with the land in the meantime?
This week, the county released several suggestions about what to do with the land. The options on the table are: to develop trails, to maintain its current condition and do minimal maintenance along the corridor; to transfer the corridor’s location with adjacent land owners to potentially move it closer to Highway 99; or to sell or lease the land to adjacent landowners.
Some people in the area are against the option of developing trails on the land – nervous about their privacy.
“I feel it’s very intrusive,” said Frank Nusbaum, a property owner along the Bailey Branch Corridor. “When it was a railroad for 100 years, it was privately owned and public access was not allowed.”
Nusbaum, like many of his neighbors along the line, farm on his property. He says the location would be inappropriate for a public trail.
“There are a lot of farming practices that are unpleasant for the public,” he said. “When we harvest for example, there is a lot of dust and chemical sprays. One of the dairies around here has a lagoon with manure that’s pumped in irrigation water.”
Nusbaum says he and his neighbors would like to purchase the land from the county for the price it paid.
“We would guarantee a covenant to guarantee it for future rail service if necessary,” he said.
Other neighbors question the purchase of the rail line in the first place, wondering if it was in the best interest of taxpayers.
“I feel that there are better things that would help more people in this county than just having an 18-mile bike path that will be through an area that really doesn’t want it,” said David Horning. “I’m extremely unhappy. Because I believe there are a lot better places to have that tax dollar go to that is currently in need.”
Horning questions the price the county will have to pay for maintenance of the rail line to fix erosion issues and to maintain the bridges – among other costs.
“I’m for a bike path,” he said. “But it’s got to be where it’s not throwing money away for ridiculous things.”
An advocate for recreational trails in the area, John Greydanus, says the roads in the southern part of the county are dangerous for cyclists and hikers.
“It’s really I think a safety issue in the Monroe-Alpine-Bellfountain area,” he said.
Residents are surrounded by high-speed roads with narrow shoulders, and Greydanus says there need to be more areas available for recreational activity. But at the same time, he understands that not all adjacent property owners to the rail line want the corridor converted into a trail.
“The Bailey Branch corridor broadens the conversation,” he said. “About widening roads in the area for bicycling; designating some roads for recreational opportunities for hiking.”
But at the same time, Greydanus argues that perhaps another solution could work: for landowners to exchange parts of their property to create a right-of-way in a more convenient location.
“And really trying to sit down and look at an entire map of the area and other opportunities to move the right of way closer to a road,” he said.
For example, Benton County spokesperson Rick Osborn says one option would be to move the corridor closer to Highway 99. But at the same time, he says there might not just be one single solution.
“This is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all kind of approach,” he said. “So you know, if there’s a trail on a portion of it let’s say, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a trail on the whole thing.”
The county is having two public hearings about the land this month. One is on July 8 at the Monroe Public Library in Monroe from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. The other is in Corvallis at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library on July 10 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.