County administrator says proposed bike trail ‘not without risk’

RappTrails becomes corporation, says maintenance fund already adequate for 15 years

It was after 9 p.m. at the evening session of the August 5 Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors meeting that more than 30 people spoke passionately — a few of them more than once — for and against the proposed Schools Connector Trail to be built between the Rappahannock County elementary and high schools.

The comment period took more than an hour, with remarks ranging from labeling the trail a “boondoggle” to being a great asset for county families.

Afterward, County Administrator Garrey Curry provided a cogent explanation about the financial and project management arrangements between the county and other parties in an effort to mitigate risk.

“This project is not without risk,” Curry acknowledged, while explaining the legal documents that were made available to the board and the public on Boarddocs: VDOT’s administrative agreement, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between RappTrails and the county, an agreement with the PATH Foundation regarding its grant contribution, and an agreement with the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission for project management.

“[These documents] have been prepared . . . in an attempt to manage the risk as well as we can and to do so in a way that is open for scrutiny by everybody,” Curry told the BOS. “As we go into this, I want to make sure that people understand the risks and we won’t come to the end of the day and say, ‘I didn’t know what we were getting into.’”

VDOT’s administrative agreement, the administrator said, is the standard project agreement the state uses, but that Appendix A details the trail project provisions. He said he had “gone back and forth with VDOT” on the provisions outlining the maintenance period.

“I was concerned about the language used [in the agreement] because it wasn’t objective enough or clear enough with terms like ‘useful life’ rather than a set number of years for maintenance,” Curry explained. “For example, they’ve added for clarity that the maintenance period is 15 years. That’s important for the board to understand because RappTrails has agreed to provide maintenance for the trail going forward for the required time of the grant.”

The MOU with RappTrails, he said, was developed to pass the requirements for funds to RappTrails for the portion not being provided by PATH and pass the maintenance on to RappTrails, as well as a part of that organization’s financial responsibility.

He said the MOU was developed to provide “trigger points” at various stages. For example, if the trail design and construction bids come in over the estimated budget, RappTrails would be required to provide more money or the project would be canceled.

“What it all comes down to,” he said, “is these documents are intended to pass the financial obligation onto RappTrails to find more money, be it through additional grants from the PATH Foundation or from VDOT or for maintenance, [so that] if these costs come in too high we’re willing to go seek out [additional] funds to make the project happen at no cost to the taxpayer to avoid a potential claw-back” of funds by the federal government.

Jackson supervisor Ron Frazier asked why the county had not asked for a surety agreement in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit — a financial instrument used to guarantee funds are available.

Curry explained that RappTrails would deposit the funds raised with the county.

“An irrevocable letter of credit allows us to draw on the bank at our will,” Curry said. “But if we have [RappTrails] cash, we don’t have to draw on anything.”

When asked about project management responsibilities, Curry said that a separate agreement with the RRRC establishes that organization as the project manager.

“I don’t have the staff for that,” said Curry. Payment to the RRRC of $60,000 or $70,000 has been included in the trails project budget.

Curry confirmed that county dollars would be used to balance out the cash flow of the project expenses. PATH Foundation and RappTrails will provide $207,000 over the next two months.

“That $207,000 [will be] sitting in your bank account earning interest before any expenditures come due,” Curry said.

After the board discussion, Jane Whitfield, one of the founders of RappTrails gave a brief status update.

“We’ve already raised $816,000 in VDOT funds and $207,000 in matching funds,” Whitfield said. “Those are secured and solid. We will have the $207,000 in cash by the end of the year in the county’s bank account, which the county will have full access to for the whole project.”

She also reported that the group has received a $20,000 pledge from the Hope Family Foundation for trail walk signage “to create a learning resources and learning environment along the trail. We’ve also received more than $20,000 in other pledges . . . [And] we’ll continue to raise additional funds for maintenance and signage.

“In the MOU,” said Whitfield, “we’ve agreed to raise a $30,000 maintenance fund. We believe that’s adequate for the 15 years when you also consider that we are going to give that money in cash at the beginning of the project to the county . . . to have full use of” throughout the project.

Whitfield reported that RappTrails has formed its own corporation and will be applying for its own non-profit designation as a 501c3 organization.

For more details, go to the unedited online video tape of the August 5, 2018 Board of Supervisors meeting at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus. The discussion about the trail begins at time stamp 5:46:15. The meeting agenda and related documents are online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.

About Patty Hardee 256 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.