A state budget proposal, to again allow municipalities to use eminent domain to seize land for bike and recreational trails, has direct implications for Cambridge and the surrounding area.

We’re not ready – yet – to say whether the proposal is a good or bad idea here.

Last week, the Cambridge Village Board accepted a $209,000 matching grant from Dane County to build a $418,500 off-road bike path northward from U.S. Highway 18 in Cambridge, toward the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. The route would pass through The Vineyards at Cambridge neighborhood and over land owned by the Cambridge Foundation, ending at the northern village limits at State Farm Road.

A local ad-hoc committee, with both Dane and Jefferson County representation, has a long-term vision to connect Cambridge — entirely off-road — to the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. The Village of Cambridge has agreed to be the fiscal agent for the ad-hoc committee as it seeks grants and other funding to pay for the project.

North of State Farm Road, once the stretch funded by the current county grant is completed, bicycles will have to follow an on-road route for about 1.5 miles via Prairie Drive, or for about 2.5 miles via State Highway 134, to reach the state trail.

According to a recent Associated Press article, Evers’ 2019-21 budget proposal would reverse a state prohibition on the use of eminent domain to condemn land for public use for bicycle and pedestrian routes. That prohibition became law in the 2017-19 state budget bill.

According to the AP, the 2017-19 language was added at the request of state Rep. Rob Stafsholt. Stafsholt said he was trying to ensure that St. Croix County officials couldn’t seize land from property owners for a recreational trail along a county highway.

Cyclists and municipalities have since said the prohibition has slowed work on more than a dozen bike trails around the state, according to the AP.

As legislators debate the budget bill, Cambridge-area officials are slowly beginning to weigh in on what eminent domain powers could mean for the local bike connector project.

The local views are, at this stage, mixed. And not everyone is yet talking.

Now-former Cambridge Village President Steve Struss in an interview on April 15, his final day in office, said he sees it as a potentially powerful tool, used possibly in conjunction with the village’s power to annex town land.

If the state budget language becomes law, Struss said he would support the village annexing land in the Town of Deerfield between State Farm Road and the state trail. After that, he said he would support using eminent domain to secure the new village land for the rest of the envisioned route.

Struss said one reason he would favor using those tools, is that a fully off-road route is safer than one with on-road stretches. And he said the land in question in the Town of Deerfield is largely marshland, not suitable for crops.

“We wouldn’t be taking prime farmland away from someone,” he said. “I don’t think it would be a huge detriment to the land owner.”

Cambridge’s new village president, Mark McNally, is apparently singing a different tune.

McNally did not respond to a request for comment.

But Bill Roelofs, a member of the Deerfield Town Board, that has voiced opposition to the idea of running the bike path through its jurisdiction, said this week he has spoken in recent days on the issue with McNally.

McNally, Roelofs said, has told him “that using eminent domain to take land for bike trails was not appropriate.”

Todd Violante, director of Dane County’s Planning and Development Department, did not respond to a request for clarification on whether under the state budget bill the county could also use eminent domain in unincorporated rural towns, to take land for bike paths.

And Bob Salov, a longtime Dane County Board supervisor, who has been an active member of Cambridge’s connector bike route ad-hoc committee, declined comment, saying he needs more information on the state budget proposal.

We’ll be listening in coming days and weeks as we hope more local officials — and local residents — weigh in on the proposal.

Would an eminent domain tool be good or bad for Cambridge and the surrounding area? Send a letter to the editor on the subject at: ksaemann@hngnews.com

Based in part on your input, we’ll consider firmly coming down, at a later date, on one side or the other.

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