CORVALLIS, Ore. – Benton County purchased 17.7 miles of an unused rail line that runs from South Corvallis to the Monroe area, then west towards Hull-Oakes Lumber. The county’s goal in purchasing the corridor was to preserve the right-of-way for future public benefit, but it needs input from the community to determine what it should be used for.
“We have a continuous route that can be used someday to reinstate rail service,” said Benton County Commissioner Linda Modrell. “If it were broken and sold piece by piece, it would have the unnecessary complication of not being attractive to somebody who might want to reinstate service in the future.”
In October of last year, the county purchased the line from Union Pacific for $486,000.
“The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts,” said Senior Planner Chris Bentley, as she referenced a famous Paul Ehrlidh quote. “And this is an important part.”
Bentley says if the county would not have saved the corridor, it would have been lost for future public benefit.
Contractors with the rail company are removing what is left of the track.
“The track that they’re pulling out is actually 75-pound weight-track, which is considered inferior by today’s freight rail standards,” said Cody Ross, an engineering survey technician for the county. “If rail were to return in the future, it would need to be completely replaced to bring the tracks up to current federal railroad administration standards.”
The county made an inventory of areas that need some work, including a spot of erosion near Oliver Creek.
“We’ll make our plan, get a permit, and reinforce and stabilize this bank,” said Jim Stouder, Road Maintenance Manager.
Now, the county is working on creating a strategy: what to do with the corridor?
“We need to think about the immediate term: what are we going to do within the corridor right now?” said Jeff Powers, Natural Resources and Parks Director. “While at the same time, keeping that overarching long-term goal of preserving the corridor intact.”
Future rail service is a possibility, but the county is open to suggestions.
“Private land exists on both sides of the corridor, and we want people to be respectful,” Powers said.
And though the county owns the strip of land, it does not mean it is open for public use – yet.
“There are deed restrictions all along the corridor that we’re addressing in the strategy,” Powers said.
Neighbors in the area say they do not want the line to turn into a public trail that would allow folks to walk along a path between two sides of their property.
The county wants to receive public input. There will be two public hearings next month: one in Monroe, the other in Corvallis.
On July 8, the first meeting will be in Monroe at the Monroe Public Library from 6:30-8 pm. On July 10, the second hearing will be at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library in Corvallis from 6:30-8 pm.
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