Court says state has no property right to bridge

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 | 3:03 p.m. CDT; updated 4:32 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Katy Trail Bridge battle spanning three years reached another landmark Tuesday when the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District affirmed a lower court’s ruling that the state has no property right to the Boonville bridge.

The decision will allow Union Pacific Railroad to continue with plans it announced in 2004 to dismantle the bridge and reuse the steel for another project near Jefferson City.

In 2005, Doyle Childers, director of the Department of Natural Resources, notified the railroad that the department was waiving its rights to the bridge, effectively absolving restraints for demolition.

Attorney General Jay Nixon challenged that two days later, though, by filing a lawsuit against the railroad and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that questioned the legality of the department’s decision.

Tuesday’s ruling maintained that the bridge was excluded from a 1987 contractual agreement giving the Department of Natural Resources the right to develop the surrounding property for the Katy Trail State Park. Though the initial ruling has been upheld, Nixon intends to appeal the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Childers maintained Tuesday that the state does not own the bridge and “should not be required to spend millions of dollars to take and refurbish a bridge that (it has) no ownership in.”

Defenders of the bridge and Nixon’s lawsuit said they remain hopeful that the bridge could still be saved.

Paula Shannon, chairwoman of the Save the Katy Bridge Coalition, said she thinks that integrating the Boonville bridge into the Katy Trail represents “economic development possibilities” and that tearing it down would mean tearing down a window to the past.

“It represents a large portion of history for our region as far as railroad, as far as architectural structure,” she said.

Shannon said the bridge is a popular and well-known feature of Katy Trail State Park, which attracts 300,000 visitors each year.

“It is one of our most photographed spots here in Boonville,” she said.

In a written statement, Nixon said that “if the giveaway of the bridge is completed, the ramifications could threaten the integrity of the entire Katy Trail, as well as take away an integral component of the city of Boonville’s economic development efforts.”

Supporters like Shannon remain optimistic about further appeals. “We’re not seeing it as anything final at this point,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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