May 26, 2005
Columbia, Mo. — Attorney General Jay Nixon today filed a lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and its director to stop the proposed relinquishment of the state's interest in the old MKT bridge at Boonville to the Union Pacific Railroad. Union Pacific intends to dismantle the historic lift bridge over the Missouri River and reuse part of it as another bridge over the Osage River and salvage the remaining steel.
In 1987, the state of Missouri, under the auspices of the federal Rails to Trails Act, acquired a property interest in the bridge and the rest of the MKT right-of-way in an agreement that resulted in the creation of the 225-mile long Katy Trail State Park. Nixon says the MDNR and department director Doyle Childers do not have the authority to cede the state's interest in the bridge to benefit a private company, and for no compensation.
"This is a giveaway by the state to a private business that stands to receive at least $10 million in benefit from the proposal," Nixon said today at a news conference held alongside a spur of the Katy Trail in Columbia. "This is an unusual step for me to sue a state agency, but I have a constitutional duty to protect the assets of the state and the interests of the citizens of Missouri."
Nixon filed the lawsuit in Cooper County Circuit Court in Boonville this morning. His lawsuit asks the court to determine that the MDNR and its director do not have the authority under the Missouri Constitution to grant, convey, release or surrender the property interest in the Boonville bridge, as spelled out in the 1987 agreement.
Nixon also is asking the court to prevent the director and the department from taking any action to relinquish the state's interest in the bridge.
"The 1987 agreement requires that the entire MKT corridor — including this bridge — be 'kept available for transportation purposes'," Nixon said. "The state of Missouri acquired a property interest through this agreement that would be eliminated if it is torn down.
"In addition, neither the department director nor the governor has the authority to dispose of state property without authority from the General Assembly," Nixon said. "Furthermore, not even the General Assembly has the authority to just give away that property interest — that is barred by the state Constitution as well.
"This decision to give up the state's interest was made without the approval of the General Assembly and without consultation with my office as to the legal consequences," Nixon said.
Nixon said he is also concerned that creating a gap in the rail corridor could threaten the very existence of the Katy Trail.
"This park is a state treasure, drawing more than 300,000 hikers and bicyclists from around the world each year," Nixon said. "The continuation of this corridor has enormous economic and recreational benefits for Missourians. A break in the corridor at Boonville could open the door for claims that would fracture the trail, and we can't afford to let that happen."
More photos: Attorney General Nixon on May 18 met with Boonville city officials and representatives of a group formed to save the bridge.