SCOTTSBLUFF — A stalemate on the part of the Scottsbluff City Council at it’s Monday night meeting has forced a possible change to the Monument Pathway to not even be heard.
The Nebraska Department of Transportation on Monday morning sent an e-mail to City Manager Nathan Johnson indicating that the city could change the proposed pathway route and eliminate the northern portion of the trail, a portion that several residents of the area have argued against as it would take away some of their property as the state gains right-of-way. The city would be facing the possibility of re-paying the state $50,000-100,000 in order for the state to make the change.
However, with Mayor Raymond Gonzales out of town on business, the four council members in attendance voted 2-2 on whether to hear the change as an emergency action item. Scott Shaver and Nathan Green voted against the emergency action, while Jeanne McKerrigan and Terry Schaub voted in favor. The split decision meant that the motion died and there could be no action taken in response to the e-mail Monday night.
Shaver indicated that he had requested that the pathway be on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. However, the agenda item Shaver had requested could not have included the state’s e-mail as even the Friday e-mail would have been too late to add due to publication and notification requirements. As a result, by law, discussion of response to the state’s e-mail could not have been included with that requested agenda item. Because of that, an emergency action item would still have been required.
At the council’s last meeting on July 1, council had heard from residents and asked staff to request that the state allow changes to the plan. The state responded Friday with an indication that the northern portion of the trail could be eliminated, however, at that time the state was still looking at the cost of such a move. The e-mail with the potential penalty came Monday.
“Friday began the action to get the ball rolling,” Johnson said during the meeting. “We asked at that time about the penalty, and they said they’d let us know. Hence the e-mail (Monday) morning.”
Shaver and Green both requested a special meeting Monday night to discuss the action later in the week, however, council meeting regulations require advance notice of such a meeting, and it is to be determined if the state will allow that time.
Ultimately, Johnson said Monday night’s inaction will have to be dealt with.
“It’s a federal project administered by the state,” he told the council and those in attendance. “Right now, this is a $5.5 million project and it’s being jeopardized.”
Property owners Kevin and Angie Figg addressed the council and expressed frustration that property owners were notified Friday that the change could be made, yet the action Monday night put up a roadblock to that change. Kevin Figg also stated to the council that the time frame for action put forward by the state was unreasonable to request a response.
“These are our homes, these are our kids,” Angie Figg said, referring to the impact of the pathway.
Property owner Mark Sitzman said the right-of-way proposed will impact nine or 10 of his platted properties and take approximately 60 feet of each after he has already paid for approach work and extended a street for proposed new housing. He said as things stand, he will have to re-engineer 13 acres of property.
Pathway supporter Kristin Wiebe said the project is important to the community as a tourism attraction as well as to local residents.
“The pathway is an attraction that draws people to our area and adds value,” she told the council. “It can be considered a tourism aspect of our region, it is not only beneficial to our residents.”
Scottsbluff resident Katie Bradshaw told the council that she is in favor of completing the pathway, but said it is critical that the city and residents "overshare" information and communicate. She said the pathway is an important way for the community to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“For the past few decades, we’ve been building cities for cars instead of people," Bradshaw said. ‘It’s expensive now to retro-fit.”
The lack of a motion to include the discussion and action as an emergency item will now be forwarded to the NDOT.
“My response to the state is simply that council decided not to act and request an open-ended time extension and see how the state responds,” Johnson said.