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Federal ruling stops work on Rock Island Corridor

Posted: 6:07 PM, Jul 31, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-31 20:27:13-04
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All work on the Rock Island Corridor has come to a halt after a federal agency said Jackson County is at fault for how the hiking and biking trail was built, revoking the county's ability to do any more work.

When the county was allowed to purchase the rail corridor, the county said they were going to leave the rail in place and put the trail beside it. But that's not what they did - they tore out the rail and put the trail down the middle.

Due to that, the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) revoked the county's exemption on Wednesday to continue anymore work on the Rock Island Corridor.

"It actually cuts them off at the knee," Thomas Stewart, an attorney at Stewart, Wald & McCulley told 41 Action News.

Stewart represents several property owners who say Jackson County improperly took their land to build a trail on the former rail line that runs from the Truman Sports Complex to Lee's Summit.

"We've been arguing for months, if not years, that Jackson County misled these, both these landowners and taxpayers of Jackson County with respect to their acquisition of this railroad line," Stewart said.

In 2016, the county issued $50 million dollars in bonds to buy the property from Union Pacific.

The rails and ties have been removed from the line, and the trail has been built on the rail bed. Something that Stewart says shouldn't have been be done.

"When the railroad initially acquired this property, they acquired an easement meaning if they stopped using it for train traffic, that land should have been reverted back to these adjacent landowners," Stewart said.

Those landowners took their concerns to the STB, who found the county is at fault for tearing up the rail, leading to their decision to revoke the county's exemption.

"Jackson county has frankly no right to even be on that property," Stewart said.

Stewart calls this a significant ruling, but the fight is far from over.

"They think they can go in and take these people's lands without paying them for it violates the constitution of the United States and the law of Missouri and the laws of the United States," Stewart said.

Moving forward, this issue is at the center of several lawsuits in state and federal court.

In response Jackson County, MO released the statement below:

"This morning, the county was made aware of the decision by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which revoked the county’s 2016 exemption to acquire and operate a rail line. Currently, staff are reviewing the decision with our subject matter experts, partners and others to determine how best to proceed. Attached you will find a document referenced in the STB decision that the county included in its response regarding trail alignment. At the time of the STB’s filing, the county was in the process of seeking the authority to abandon the line, which is the first step in “railbanking” the corridor. The county will suspend the abandonment process until we determine how best to proceed. Additionally, while we determine how best to proceed, the county has asked contractors to stop construction on the rail bed and stop removal of any track on the rail corridor. The county will have no further comment today."