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Poisoned soil could be the end for trail

Plans to convert an abandoned railroad bed into a one-mile recreation trail are in jeopardy and could end up being scrapped.

The city has been working with the state Department of Transportation to construct a trail along the old line from Eighth Street at Church Avenue extending across Howard and Florida avenues and ending past Fairfield Avenue.

State grant money has been awarded to construct the trail, which would then become a city-maintained linear park.

But arsenic, a poison commonly used by railroads to contain vegetation on the tracks, is buried in the soil, presenting environmental concerns.

"Literally going out there to the soil and starting to dig around could release some of this material," said Rick Adair, environmental administrator for DOT's Tampa district office.

Officials are considering several alternatives, including going ahead with the project as planned. They also might look into bringing in fill from another site and elevating the trail a couple of feet or building a boardwalk.

But for now, the whole thing is on hold, and money is suddenly a major obstacle.

Just more than $300,000 has been allocated for the project, but no matter what alternative is settled on, it's going to require more money.

"We're trying to analyze the costs associated to see if we can still fund it," said Mark Clasgens, DOT's project manager.

The idea for the project, part of the state's Rails to Trails network, was first floated in 1998. It sat untouched for a few years until Laura Beagles, assistant to the city manager, got things moving again.

She said Wednesday the project would not cost the city any money. On completion the city would have been responsible for maintaining it, patroling it and keeping it free of litter.

"I have volunteers already lined up," Beagles said. "We were going to take our sections, keep it clean."

Construction had been set to being in September, with the trail completed by November. Beyond that, the city hoped to build another stretch from Church Avenue to Lock Street, and ultimately try to connect it to the southern end of the 46-mile Withlacoochee Trail in Trilby.

"Getting our little section in Dade City was supposed to be the catalyst," Beagles said.

A decision on the project's future is expected within a month or two.