By James Beaty
City councilors have taken another step down a path that could lead to a city-wide trail system in McAlester.
By a 6-1 vote, city councilors and Mayor Steve Harrison voted to authorize the mayor to sign the Belmont Trail Project Application and supporting documents, seeking a grant from the Oklahoma Recreational Trails Program.
Ward 2 Councilor John Titsworth cast the sole dissenting vote, although several councilors raised questions about the project and how it will be implemented if the city does get the grant.
City councilors took the action during their regular Tuesday night meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
Pam Kirby, a grant writer and Human Resources manager for the city, made the initial pitch.
The proposed Belmont Trail, in south McAlester, is less than an eighth of a mile from Will Rogers Elementary School and Will Rogers Park, according to city documents.
It’s part of proposed link of pedestrian and bicycle trails in the city and has been identified as a top priority due to the bridge crossing the canal near Illinois Avenue, according to city documents.
That’s because the bridge is not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. The proposal calls for the out-of-compliance bridge to be replaced with a new structure designed to meet ADA standards.
The city is applying for a $160,000 federal grant, which would require a $34,051 cash match and a $31,067 in-kind match, for a total cost of $225,118, according to city documents.
Under the proposal, city crews would pave the asphalt portion of the trail to meet the in-kind match and the city would pay for the asphalt, city documents state.
Along with bicycles and pedestrian traffic, such as walkers and runners, the trail could also be used by those on skate boards, roller blades and mountain bikes, city documents state.
That prompted one of the first questions, from Ward 3 Councilor Travis Read, who noted the proposal calls for the Belmont Trail to tie in with the existing trial at Mike Deak Field. Read said bicycles, skate boards and roller blades aren’t currently allowed on the track at Mike Deak, also referred to as Will Rogers Park.
“If I understand... they’re going to have different lanes for that,” Kirby said.
City Manger Pete Stasiak offered some input.
“This will be a larger trail, “Stasiak said. “This trail will get you to the walking path.” The city manager said the walking trail is a longtime project spanning a number of years, and trails could be expanded later.
“At some point we’re going to have to look at Mike Deak Field, and possibly widen it,” Stasiak said.
Ward 5 Council Buddy Garvin also had some concerns.
“It says city crews are going to pave the asphalt portion of the trail,” Garvin said. He questioned taking a crew that could be working on city streets and having the crew work on trails instead.
“Lord knows we have plenty of street projects,” Garvin said.
Asked how long it would take to pave the proposed Belmont trail, Stasiak said that portion of the trail could be completed in from four-to-six hours. Harrison said the distance is just under a third of a mile.
Ward 4 Councilor Robert Karr also had some comments.
“I don’t know how many people will use this trail, but there’s a lot of people driving up and down our streets.”
Ward 6 Councilor Mason also had some input.
“We have so much to do and we’re obligating ourselves to do more and more,” Mason said.
“We’re talking about spending $65,000 of city money for this project.”
Mason noted the cost estimates of the project could change and could become higher or lower.
“In the past, we haven’t had too much success,” Mason said, referring to projects that ended up costing more than the estimates.
Titsworth also mentioned his concerns, including other projects on which city employees could be working, and his reluctance to accept a federal grant.
He noted the federal government is more than $16 trillion in debt, and said the city would be “taking money from somebody who doesn’t have money.”
Stasiak said the city wouldn’t be helping the federal deficit by refusing a grant.
“If we don’t take the $165,000, it will go to another community,” Stasiak said, referring to the size of the grant the city is seeking.
While no McAlester residents at the meeting spoke against the proposal, several did speak in favor of it. At one point supporters formed a line along the south wall that snaked all the way out to the lobby.
Zella Kinkead said she’s a trainer who lives in Krebs..
“I have a lot of clients I know that can use this trail,” she said.
Rudy Hernandez said the whole project looks good to him.
“I feel like the city needs something like this in order to grow,” he said.
Cindy Karr said she’s in charge of a number of races in the city.
“Last year, we had more than 300 participants,” she said. She also noted young people would use the trail.
“We want our kids to be healthy,” she said.
District 18 state Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, who is a former city councilor, said he is also a runner. He said those who come to look over the community, look to see what all is available.
“Having been an assistant middle school principal, I know we have several skate boarders and bicyclists,” he said.
Harrison said he wanted to remind the council of a couple of things.
“One, I might remind the council we’ve got a lot of support from school kids,” he said, referring to support for the trails project.
Making another point, Harrison said “This is a funded program. It will not be returned to the government,” Harrison referred to the amount of the grant funds available for the program.
He also noted that federal tax dollars paid by McAlester residents are used by the federal government for other projects.
“It’s time we got some of that money back,” Harrison said. He also said he had seen a recent survey where Oklahomans were ranked approximately 45th in the nation in the number of adults how live a sedentary lifestyle.
“To me, this is a quality of life issue,” Harrison said.
Garvin returned again to “the issue of employees not being able to get things done. We’re overloading our employees,” he said.
Read asked the city manager a question.
“Would approving this tonight have a negative impact on what we’re scheduled to do on streets?”
“No,” Stasiak replied.
Shortly thereafter, the council cast the 6-1 vote in favor of the measure.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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