The city of El Dorado is looking for an alternative route for a proposed multi-use trail that was to have been built on the west side of town.
Earlier this month, Cody Stringer, of A.L. Franks Engineering, Inc., with whom the Department of Public Works is working on the project, reported that the city was not able to procure a recreational easement along a route that had been scouted on the west side of town for the multi-use trail, which could be used for walking, running and cycling.
Stringer explained that engineers were seeking an 18-foot recreational easement that would have run within an existing 50-foot easement that is accessible to the Union County Water Conservation Board for a water transmission pipeline that leads from the Ouachita River water intake and treatment facility and feeds local industries.
The trail is part of a master plan by the city to develop a pedestrian and bike trail system that connects points in El Dorado and Union County.
In the plan, the UCWCB easement was identified as one of the prime areas for a multi-use trail, starting behind El Dorado High School, 2000 Wildcat Drive, and extending north, just past Robert E. Lee/Arkansas 15.
Stringer said the UCWCB provided information that was needed for the project and the information listed 61 properties that sit along the UCWCB easement.
He said some of the properties were owned by the same person.
“So, our first task was to get the public’s opinion on it and so, we sent out 46 letters on Sept. 12 of 2019 and most of the responses were no,” Stringer said.
He said 10 respondents answered no and two answered yes. A.L. Franks received nine return-to-sender notices and three change of ownership notices, he said.
Twenty-two property owners did not respond to the letter seeking their opinion, Stringer said, adding that the final response was submitted Oct. 9.
“We’re not dong anything else until we’re told otherwise (by the city),” Stringer said.
Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer inquired about the next step and Stringer said the next step is to “find a new route, find a way around the noes.”
Council Member Willie McGhee said he did not favor pursuing the eminent domain process to acquire the necessary easement.
“I really don’t know from there. If you wanted to proceed with it, we’d have to find a different place to put it, a different route,” Stringer said.
McGhee then asked Council Member Billy Blann for suggestions.
Blann, an avid runner, has long championed the development of and the need for local recreational facilities for runners and cyclists.
Blann was instrumental in initiating the master plan, which was developed within the past five years by Crafton Tull, an Arkansas-based civil engineer, surveying, architecture, landscape architecture and planning firm.
Blann has cited the economic benefit of such facilities, noting that young adults and young families consider recreational opportunities as one of several criteria when they are looking to relocate.
With a well-developed pedestrian and biking system, the city could also host large-scale competitions and other related activities, he has said.
“Try and try again. This tells me Union County is not a real trail-familiar town. They don’t support it very good. Maybe some education would work,” Blann said. “What comes to my mind is how are other parts of the state doing it? How are they putting in trails? Maybe they’re going about it a different way.
Blann noted that one property owner with land on the edge of city limits expressed concern about the proposed easement because he uses the property for deer-hunting and has a deer stand in the area.
Added Stringer, “Most of the people that called me said they didn’t want somebody riding or walking through their backyard. That was their concern with it.”
Robert Edmonds, Director of Public Works, said he will work with A.L. Franks to come up with a Plan B. Blann noted that the city has already been awarded a grant for the project and Edmonds said he will check to see when the grant expires.
Speaking to the News-Times later, Edmonds said a potential alternative could be to extend the existing multi-use trail that encircles the Union County Fairgrounds and Lions Club Municipal Golf Course south, along Martin Luther King to East Hillsboro.
He said the trail could then tie into some of the design elements in proposed plans by the state to widen and improve Hillsboro/U.S. 82-B through El Dorado.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation is spearheading the project. The city has agreed to take over the highway and maintain it once the project is complete.
Edmonds said the project could get underway in 2023.