Residents opposed to a plan by the city of Joplin to build the Mohaska Trail in southwest Joplin say their fight is not finished, despite council action Monday night to advance work on the project.
"I don't want it," said Sandi Wells, a resident of South Byers Avenue. "None of those who live over here want it. We haven't seen any money for it, and they are not taking my land. They took an easement. Now they're taking more. That (land) is part of my mortgage, and I haven't seen any money for it. We're still fighting them."
Are residents considering legal action? "It may come to that," she said. "We're not going to take this lying down."
City officials say they are not taking property from the residents for the trail.
"It does not fall on her property," said Dan Johnson, the city's assistant public works director. "I think there is a separation of a couple of feet and, at some points, more" between Wells' property and the trail location.
"We are putting it in on city right of way designated in 1912 with the original plat," Johnson said. Residents in the area have never had to pay taxes on the right of way land.
"That is the city's right of way to use for transportation as a street or a trail," Johnson said.
Mari Susan Cameron, another resident of South Byers Avenue, said it doesn't matter whether the city is literally taking the land from her neighbors because the trail will take their privacy.
"The trail will be at the bottom of the hill," she said. "Even if she (Wells) puts up a fence, people will still be able to see into her yard where she would have her morning coffee and if she doesn't pull her shades, they will be able to see into her house. I just think that's an invasion of privacy. Another point is we have so many trails, why do we need more?"
Johnson said the city is carrying out a plan made to provide for pedestrian and bicycle transportation routes that interconnect throughout the city to take people to a number of destinations.
"We are following a master plan that goes all the way back to the 1990s, and that plan has been reaffirmed by public support and council support between the 1990s and now," he said.
In addition to periodic community review of the various trail plans as they are proposed for construction, trail building received support after the 2011 tornado when the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team asked for public input in rebuilding from the tornado.
"One of the things that ranked high was getting a more walkable community with green spaces and trails," Johnson said. "Those are all reasons that led us to design this trail."
For Cameron, there is irony in that.
"This is the Mohaska division, but they closed Mohaska (Avenue) road," she said. In addition, the city moved a neighborhood park, Mohaska Park, that until recently was located around the corner from her and her neighbors to a location she said is three-quarters of a mile away near 30th Street and Jackson Avenue.
"They have closed the (Mohaska Avenue) road from Sergeant to Jackson so you can't even get to the park through the Mohaska division," she said. "They have even cut us off from our own park."
The City Council heard comments from three residents Monday night, including Wells and Cameron, who are against construction of the trail in that neighborhood. Six people spoke in favor of the trail, saying they would use it for recreation and exercise.
But the remarks against the trail did not stop the council from moving forward with the trail. The panel voted to approve agreements to reroute the trail around the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences Joplin campus in the area of 28th Street and St. John's Boulevard at the request of medical school officials.
KCU asked the city to move the trail so that the medical school property would be clear if there were additions to the building, Johnson told the council. KCU will pay the city up to $170,000 to cover the expenses of the relocation under one of the agreements.
"KCU supports the development of the Mohaska Trail for our community. However, as originally proposed, it would limit opportunities for the expansion of our campus and future development for the university. Relocating the trail near a public street with adequate lighting and good visibility will improve safety and security, especially at night, for our students and the community. For those reasons KCU has offered to cover the incremental costs of moving the Mohaska Trail to the new location," KCU said in a statement provided by its spokesperson, Heather Browne.
Johnson said the original route of the trail was shorter. "Every extra foot adds cost. Originally the trail was going to be asphalt and now it's going to be concrete, which costs more."
The council also authorized an agreement Monday with the city's Joint Engineering Team to do the engineering work to reroute the trail. That cost, $17,739, is one of the expenses that will be covered by the KCU payment.
That's another point of contention for Cameron. "Supposedly it was a done deal," she said, when Byers Avenue residents first asked the city to change the route.
"KCU can change it, but we can't," she said.
The trail will start at Cunningham Park and go south toward KCU along St. John's Boulevard. It will split at 28th Street and a portion will go south along the boulevard to 32nd Street. That portion will be paid for with a $200,000 federal grant administered by the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Another section of the trail will follow 28th Street to Jackson Avenue, where it will go south to Mohaska Park and then be routed northeast along what was Mohaska Avenue, go north on Pearl Avenue to 26th Street and east to Main Street. It is the section that follows what was Mohaska Avenue that skirts behind the Byers Avenue residences that prompted the protests.
That section will be funded by the city's federal disaster recovery funding at a cost of about $1.2 million.
That is another rub for Wells.
"My biggest complaint is they're using grant money and tornado recovery money for the trail. That is supposed to be used for the repair of things that were here before the tornado. The trail wasn't here before the tornado," she said.
Johnson said the recovery funds can be used to enhance neighborhoods. "It's not just to replace and repair damage from the tornado. Mercy Park and the new senior center are some of the other projects we've done that is not a direct tornado repair. So those funds can be used for that."
Wells had previously said she was concerned about experiencing an increase in crime if the trail were built along the residential area.
Capt. Trevor Howard said that the Joplin Police Department received 18 reports on incidents last year related to the Frisco Trail.
"Parking lots are where we see a higher increase in crime," Duncan said. "We experience theft from vehicles at those parking lots, and it is not uncommon for officers to locate people in those lots that are using drugs or are involved in some other kind of criminal activity.
"As far as the trails, we do have some reported crimes. We see vandalism, occasionally we will see an assault or an indecent exposure, but primarily the crime we see is in the parking lots. People use those parking lots as a place to congregate and commit crimes and they target the people who are parking there to use the trails," he said.
Cameron said there is an easy solution for the trail and the residents.
"Just stop it at Jackson Avenue" and route it onto 26th Street from that street. "Give us back Mohaska (Avenue) road. Have them (trail users) use the sidewalks on 26th Street. That would give us our privacy."
Some of the comments made at the City Council meeting by those who support the trail.
Shelly Kraft: "I am very passionate about the trails system." She said she uses a trail every day for exercise and many others do too.
John Bowling: "Mohaska Avenue was platted as a 40-foot road but was never built to city standards," he said, and should be closed. Mohaska Trail "is not just a walking path. It is transportation, but it is walking transportation."
Scott Vorhees: He runs six days a week for fitness and supports trails because they are safer than running on or next to streets. "There is a new cancer today, and it is the sedentary lifestyle," he said. "Connected communities are healthy communities."