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Three former DNR directors back Nixon in bridge dispute

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The disputed bridge (photo from savethekatybridge.org)

By AP/KWMU

Jefferson City, MO – Three former Directors of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources have sided with Attorney General Jay Nixon in his dispute with Gov. Matt Blunt's office over an old railroad bridge.

Tuesday was the deadline for filing briefs in the appeal of a Cole County court's decision in favor of the Department of Natural Resources, and against Nixon. The battle is over the former Katy railroad bridge over the Missouri River at Boonville. Union Pacific wants to dismantle it and use the steel elsewhere, and the department supports that plan.

But Nixon and bridge backers say the agency cannot give up the state's interest in the bridge. Historic preservationists want to refurbish the bridge for potential use as part of Katy Trail State Park.

Former DNR directors Frederick Brunner and Tracy Mehan, who served under Republican Gov. John Ashcroft, and Steve Mahfood, who worked for Democrat Govs. Mel Carnahan and Bob Holden asked Tuesday to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, agreeing with Nixon.

A 1987 purchase agreement for the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad line allowed DNR to eventually use the Missouri River bridge as part of a bicycle and pedestrian trail as long as DNR assumed liability for the bridge on terms acceptable to the railroad.

Brunner, who led the department when the purchase agreement was reached, and an MKT Railroad executive understood the deal to mean the bridge was part of the trail corridor, and thus must remain available for future rail use, according to a court filing by the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

"As MKT's successor in interest to the 1987 agreement, Union Pacific is obligated to leave the bridge in place," the court filing said. "Union Pacific is unlawfully taking steps to remove the bridge, and profit from the removal." The DNR's deputy director and general counsel, Kurt Schaefer, said the agency has spent more than $230,000 defending its actions. "The contractual issues were decided by the trial court correctly, and it's unfortunate the state of Missouri has to continue to pay for these increased filings by both the attorney general and others in this case," Schaefer said.

When Union Pacific planned to dismantle the bridge, then-director Mahfood sent a letter claiming the bridge for state trail use. After Blunt took office, new DNR director Doyle Childers reversed that decision. DNR and the railroad contend the state has no property right to the bridge.

Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder agreed, saying until the state makes a legitimate offer to assume liability, it has no right to the bridge.

Some bridge enthusiasts want to try to make the bridge part of the Katy Trail. Currently, trail users are routed over a nearby highway bridge.

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