by Roger Normand
If all goes according to plan, by late December 2017 Legacy Trail users gazing northward from the northern end of the trail by Culverhouse Nature Park will be seeing County property signs atop the overgrown, unused rail corridor now owned by CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX) and its lessee Seminole Gulf Railway L.P. (SGR).
Field work has been completed by the County and its partner Trust for Public Land on an environmental assessment, title review, and boundary survey of the Phase 1 portion of the corridor to Ashton Road. CSX and SGR are participating in the review. Efforts are now focused on analyzing the results, as well as completing the review of over 30 existing individual licenses, leases and agreements and deciding whether to continue, modify, or terminate each one.
Despite beginning with an shortened timeline, and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the parties expect to complete the inspection review by 30 November 2017. Barring any unexpected findings, they will close on the property by December 20th, 2017, as provided in the sale contract.
Like the existing Legacy Trail, the Phase 1 corridor will be “railbanked” under the provisions of the National Trails System Act. According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy, “Railbanking is a method by which corridors that would otherwise be abandoned can be preserved for future rail use through interim conversion to a trail.” CSX and SGR recently filed to formally abandon this section of rail corridor with the Surface Transportation Board, which has national regulatory oversight on railroads. The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners approved on October 31st sending a “letter to the Surface Transportation Board requesting issuance of a Public Use Condition, designation of Interim Trail Use, including a Statement of Willingness to Assume Financial Responsibility in response to the CSX Transportation/Seminole Gulf Railway application for abandonment.”
Efforts are also proceeding to draft language for a planned November 2018 County-wide referendum that, combined with a broad public fund raising effort and continued pursuit of grants, will finance both the Phase 2 acquisition of the corridor from CSX/SGR AND construction of both phases to extend the Legacy Trail to Payne Park in the city of Sarasota.
The future indeed looks bright for a dramatically expanded trail network in Sarasota County.