COLUMBIA — Members of the Columbia Audubon Society voted 29-19 on Wednesday to allow the Scott's Branch Trail to be built through its property.
Howard Hinkel, president of the Audubon Society, said the membership authorized the board to continue to negotiate with the city for the easement. The society already agreed to compromise in July.
"The board will work things out with the city from here," Hinkel said.
The vote has cleared the way for the city to build the trail running through the southern end of the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary, located west of Columbia.
With one member absent, the decision was made after an intense two-hour meeting and discussion, Hinkel said.
The Columbia Audubon Society had been opposing the idea of running the trail through its property for months, but its board agreed to compromise last month. At a City Council meeting, members of the society said they were afraid the city might use eminent domain to take the lands by force otherwise.
Eminent domain is a process that allows a government to take private property for public use as long as the owner is reasonably compensated.
On its website, the society published a notice urging members to vote on Wednesday, along with a statement presented to the council last month by a member of the society.
"It was under extreme duress, the absolute assuredness of facing eminent domain proceedings that the Board of the Columbia Audubon Society capitulated," read the statement by Edge Wade. "We have the will to fight eminent domain, but lack the means."
The society also proposed several stipulations for allowing the trail to be built. Included in the proposed stipulations are:
- The society must grant final approval of the trail.
- No trees will be removed or destroyed.
- The trail will be limited to 8 feet wide, with a 2-foot easement on either side.
- No dogs will be allowed on Audubon property.
- No switchback (a zigzag path on a steep incline) will be allowed on the portion of the trail passing through the sanctuary.
- A parking lot to access the trail will be built off Cunningham Road.