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Rails-to-Trails Informational Presentation Turns Contentious
Friday, April 19th, 2019 -- 12:04 pm
Posted by Riley Hebert-News Director

-The Neillsville Improvement Corporation’s Rails-to-Trails Informational Presentation turned contentious yesterday afternoon.

The Neillsville Improvement Corporation, or NIC, has joined the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and is spearheading a project that would turn an old railroad bed between Neillsville and Chili into a walking/bike trail. 98% of the land is owned by Xcel Energy and the company has agreed to a conditional sale of the land pending final negotiations with NIC. At this time, no money has been spent and no action is set in stone. NIC has just entered the planning phase of this project, but there is a lot more work to do and many more hoops to jump through. And, as members of NIC have frequently expressed, this entire project could still fall through. The group wants to work with adjacent landowners along the rail bed in regards to leases and easements, where applicable. They’re also striving to work around landowners that won’t support the project, make sure they don’t disrupt any agricultural operations and assure them they have virtually no liability should someone leave the trail, step on their property and get hurt. Members of the group assured those present at the meeting that with the thousands of miles of bike trail around Wisconsin, these issues have all been addressed and haven’t been a problem.

The purpose of NIC’s presentation on Thursday at the Clark County Courthouse in Neillsville, led by President Dan Clough, Vice President Deanna Heiman and Board Member Denise Clough, was informational only. NIC was asked to present information about the meeting and, in return, they invited the public to hear what they had to say. They did have a sheet where those with questions and concerns could express them, leave their name and phone number and NIC will be contacting each of them to address their questions/concerns. However, there are those opposed to the project, including several individuals that have gotten a lawyer involved. Attorney John Stichert was present at the meeting Thursday afternoon. Halfway through NIC’s presentation, Stichert began to berate the members of NIC and repeatedly accused them of lying to the people present at the meeting about what they’re doing and stating names of individuals that he represents that don’t want the trail on their land. Eventually, Deanna Heiman stepped in and informed Stichert that this was not the purpose of the meeting and many people present wanted to hear the information they were trying to present. Things calmed down from there, but there were still people in the audience that would shout out snide and rude comments to try and derail the meeting.

There were just as many people in support of the project at the meeting as well. The Village of Granton has already passed a unanimous resolution in support of the Rails-to-Trails Project and they have done work on their park to accommodate campers and bike riders. Many others in support of the project gave NIC a long and loud round of applause when the presentation was done for their work on the project and their handling of the situation with Stichert. They also expressed their support to individual members of NIC after the meeting.

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