Editor's Note: Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan represents Mendota Heights, Lilydale, Mendota and a portion of Eagan. He was elected to office in 2004 and is now serving his second four-year term. Egan will write regularly to Patch readers about county government.
The Dakota County Board of Commissioners hopes that it is running into a temporary hiccup in completion of the North Urban Regional Trail (NURT) anticipated by many residents of Mendota Heights, Mendota and Lilydale for years.
After planning the nearly eight-mile long NURT for fifteen years with a segment of approximately one mile running through a portion of Dodge Nature Center (DNC), the current DNC board of directors has changed its position on supporting that segment.
This comes after the former executive director of the DNC wrote in 2007 a letter strongly supporting the successful Dakota County application for $709,000 in federal grant money for the NURT.
This also comes after the Dakota County Board in 2007 changed the criteria for its Farmland and Natural Area Preservation Program (FNAP) and awarded the DNC $500,000 to conserve and protect 156 acres not directly affected by this segment with the clear intention that DNC would continue to support the anticipated alignment.
The NURT alignment, proposed in 1996, reflects an extension of the trail running from the intersection of Highway 110 and Charlton Street in West St. Paul north meandering through the DNC property connecting with Marie Avenue and traveling a short distance back to Charlton. This was the alignment that existed at the time of the successful federal grant application and the letter of support by the DNC executive director in 2007.
This is also the alignment that the current board now indicates they will not support.
Funding in Jeopardy
Because of this change in position, in October, I joined with commissioners Kathleen Gaylord and Nancy Schouweiler along with DNC board members and staff to try and resolve this issue.
I personally felt the meeting was fruitful.
We explained that the $709,000 in federal grant money awarded Dakota County for the NURT will sunset and be lost if final design and right-of-way acquisition is not completed by March 31, 2013.
We also pointed out that there is another $96,000 in State Legacy grant funds and $290,000 of county funds budgeted for this project in jeopardy if this delay is not resolved.
Despite what I thought was a fruitful meeting, on Jan. 10, 2012, Jason Sanders, who is currently the executive director of the DNC, wrote a letter to Dakota County Park Director Steve Sullivan stating that " … the DNC will not consent to construction of a segment of the NURT (a) north/south through the Marie Property, nor (b) through any central portion of the Marie Property …" because the extension of the NURT as proposed would " … completely vitiate the use of the Marie Property as a nature center."
The County Board met on Feb. 21 to discuss the project’s status and alternatives.
We believe we can request a one-year extension on the sunset date for the $709,000 federal grant money until perhaps March 2014.
In answer to my question about the anticipated "trail experience" realized by running the NURT straight up Delaware Avenue, or perhaps partially up Warrior Drive behind the high school, I was told that this would be inconsistent with the goal of interconnecting corridors, linking parks, open space, water, habitat and communities while providing recreational options.
The Board directed staff to evaluate all potentially feasible alignments for this segment of NURT including a north/south alignment through the DNC property, receive public input and return to the county board at a future meeting to select a preferred trail alignment.
I can assure the residents of Dakota County that they will hear more on this issue in the near future.