The City of Bismarck has had some controversial issues in the past. But a recent proposal to build a “Bismarck Central Pathway” from the downtown area to the Riverfront is simply astonishing. A temporary “Pop-Up Path” to demonstrate the route of the proposed Bismarck Central Pathway will be available soon. Not only are there economic unknowns related to the potential project, but it appears there may be public safety concerns as well.
On June 8, 2017 the Community Development Department sought approval from the city to apply for a “Community Challenge grant” through AARP. The purpose of the grant was for the “quick-build of a trial multi-use path between Sertoma Park and downtown in the fall of 2017”.
Not only did Community Development obtain approval from the city to apply for the grant, but AARP approved it for a total of $12,610. The city’s web site describes the use of the funds as follows:
“The AARP grant will be used to create a demonstration of the pathway, utilizing straw bales, paint, traffic cones and signs to highlight the route, display the benefits of the connection, and demonstrate a new active transportation and recreation option.
“The demonstration project for the Bismarck Central Pathway will be called “Pop-Up Pathway”. The Pop-Up Pathway will be available from September 23 until October 14. The Pathway will run along Front Avenue and Memorial Highway. The mission of the Bismarck Central Pathway is to create a connection that effectively and safely connects downtown Bismarck to the Missouri River waterfront parks and trail system.”
In a response to request for information, City Planner Will Hutchings made it clear that the grant was meant only to gauge interest in a “potential future path”:
“This path is a demonstration of a potential future path. The purpose of the demonstration project is to determine citizen interest in developing a permanent connection between the riverfront trails and downtown.”
It’s obvious that the end game is to have a permanent path. That’s no secret. But where would the funding come from? To that question, Mr. Hutchings gave the following response:
“Since this project is just a demonstration designed to determine citizen interest and get planning related feedback, no cost estimates for a permanent pathway have been prepared at this time and no funding source has been identified – thus a permanent version of this project has not been put out to bid. After the demonstration is complete,planning staff will review polling information gathered during the project to determine if future more substantial investments are warranted and desired.” (Emphasis Added)
Obtaining a small grant (i.e. free money) to gauge interest is one thing. But given the fact that the end game is a permanent path, the citizens of Bismarck should have the right to at least have an idea of how the city would pay for such a project. After all, I’m guessing the associated costs would be fairly significant– or “substantial” as Mr. Hutchings noted. And I’m also guessing that those funds would come from the taxpayers. But I’d be grateful to have the city prove otherwise.
On August 10, 2017 the city’s Finance Department made their recommendations regarding the 2018 budget to the City Commission. Included in that document was this paragraph:
If the City of Bismarck feels it’s necessary to maintain the current mill levy or even increase it for 2018 in order to “address funding priorities” – which means property taxes would go up – should they really even be considering fluff projects like the “Bismarck Central Pathway”? Especially when the state just ended the property tax buy-downs.
But this is just the economic aspect of it. Take a look at this map that the city provided as a visual of where the “potential future path” would run:
Now notice the red and green markers on the same path with a map provided to me by a reader of The Minuteman:
Each one of those red and green markers represents the location of a registered sex offender. Yes, this path could just as well be called “Pedophile Path”. This is simply unbelievable. And just think of it– if you own property in or are a resident of Bismarck, your tax dollars just might be going to fund this future permanent path.
I find that the City of Bismarck’s consideration of this project illustrates a lack of due diligence. In their angst to get the grant from AARP, not only have they entered into the preliminary steps of the project without knowing even a ballpark figure of the associated economic costs of a permanent path, but they’ve placed it in an area where we could certainly argue it puts people at risk– including children.
Nevertheless, the city wants to sell the public on the idea of a permanent path through the aforementioned Pop-Up Path– with an event kickoff and prizes to follow. Look at this from the city web site:
“The Pop-Up Pathway event launch will be in conjunction with BisMarket on Saturday, September 23 at 11am. The launch will include remarks by representatives of the project partners. Everyone is encouraged to try out the pathway! In addition to the BisMarket launch event, there are more events taking place on Saturdays in the following weeks. Visit https://sites.google.com/view/popupbismarck/events for upcoming event details.“
Stay tuned for Pop-Up Passports, which will be available at Bismarck Parks and Recreation District (BPRD) Main Office at 400 E. Front Avenue, Bismarck. The passports contain a number of ways to receive stamps by enjoying the pathway anytime while the Pop-Up is available. Once the passport is filled up, passports can be returned to BPRD for a prize and a chance to [win] a grand prize.” (Emphasis Added)
Taking all of it together, there’s no amount of kickoff events or prizes that should convince any sensible person that this is a good idea at all. Whatever polling is done as part of this “demonstration” should result in a resounding “NO!” from the citizens of Bismarck. At some point out of touch spendthrift local governments have to be stopped. And for the citizens of Bismarck, now is a good time to do just that.