The Steelville Chamber of Commerce is currently working on an ambitious proposal to turn part of the old “lead line” railroad, which runs from Cuba to Viburnum and beyond, into a trail. The idea seems like a no-brainer, but will likely never happen unless a whole lot of entities can come together. The economic impact for the entire area could be huge.
About a year ago, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) officially discontinued service on the old lead line, which hadn’t been in use for about a decade. Many area residents are mistakenly under the opinion that BNSF abandoned the line, but the railroad still owns it; it just doesn’t maintain it.
If BNSF were to abandon the lead line, two things could happen: it could be turned into a trail, or the property could revert to the adjacent land owners as was the case with the old Salem line that ran through Wesco and Cook Station.
Under federal law, if BNSF were to completely abandon the lead line, it would have to do a historical and environmental impact study. That won’t happen because the entire lead line is just what the name implies—a lead line. It is highly contaminated with lead from decades of hauling the mineral from the mines in the Viburnum area.
Much of the lead line has already become an eyesore and it will only get worse as time passes and BNSF does nothing to maintain the old track. The Steelville Chamber has taken on a project of cutting weeds and cleaning up along the railroad throughout the city, but parts outside of Steelville are quickly becoming overgrown with brush. Since it’s unlikely BNSF will ever abandon the lead line (and clean up the lead which could cost tens of millions of dollars), it may ultimately remain a brush-covered mess for decades to come. It doesn’t have to be that way.
If there has ever been a time for our government to facilitate a solution to a problem that seems destined to never go away, this is it. Now is the time for BNSF, local business leaders and elected officials, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and our state and federal politicians to sit down and formulate a plan to turn the old lead line into a scenic hiking and biking trail.
Doing nothing is simply not an answer to this problem. There has to be a way to eliminate or greatly reduce BNSF’s liability for cleaning up the old lead line, while at the same time helping to create another great trail that could benefit residents throughout our state and beyond.
It could be as simple as the EPA and DNR agreeing not to make BNSF clean up the lead contamination in exchange for the railroad making a charitable contribution to the state to help pay for development of the lead line into a hiking and biking trail. Perhaps as part of any agreement, BNSF could be allowed to recover the rail on the line, while leaving the rail bed (and lead contamination) undisturbed. The old line could then be covered with a foot or two of clean chat to entomb the lead so it would not be a danger to trail users.
Not everyone will favor such a plan. Several property owners in southern Crawford County have already voiced opposition to the lead line being developed into a trail. Like those along the Katy Trail did before it was developed, they fear people using the trail along their property; they fear people will trespass on their land or somehow cause other problems. That hasn’t been the case along the Katy Trail, however, and it would not be the case here. People who hike and bike aren’t generally the law-breaking types. In fact, having those people using a trail along your property should actually improve security for rural homeowners because their presence alone would deter ne’er-do-wells.
Our alternatives are simple: keep this lemon of a railroad and let it rot into the ground to the benefit of no one; or make lemonade for the enjoyment of all. Let’s make lemonade!
Other Vietnam casualties identified
Following last week’s editorial, local residents have identified two other area residents who were killed in Vietnam: Phillip Ives, of Steelville, and Clifford Mullen, of Cuba.
Those named last week are listed on the Virtual Wall (www.virtualwall.org) as the only soldiers from Crawford County killed in Vietnam; however the website’s list was made from official military records that sometimes incorrectly list soldiers’ hometowns. Ives is listed on the Virtual Wall as having been from Valley Park, while Mullen is reported to have been from Benton, Mo.