If you want to go hiking, don’t go to Big Bull Creek, a county – owned park just outside of Edgerton and adjacent to Hillsdale Reservoir. Don’t plan on fishing, biking, camping or mushroom hunting on the county-owned property either.
Although taxpayers passed a $6 million bond issue in 1998 to acquire the 1,400 acres, county officials have not lived up to their promise to make improvements to the park including hiking trails, prairie and woodland management programs and a large group camping area. More than a decade after the original purchase, taxpayers are not allowed on the land.
That point may be moot sooner rather than later though, and taxpayers may never get the chance to enjoy the park for which they paid. Edgerton currently has filed eminent domain proceedings against Johnson County Parks for a portion of the park land so a waste water treatment plant can be built. Gardner is also a partner in the $11.9 million plant. The plant is needed to serve the 1,000 acre BNSF intermodal logistics plant and to service other projected future growth in the area.
What makes the situation interesting is, that despite a countywide vote, and a $6 million bond issue, the public purchased property they have never been allowed to enjoy. And now it appears the Johnson County Park board wants to cash in again, refusing to negotiate with Edgerton to purchase the property for a fair market price, forcing an eminent domain proceeding, and requiring the community pay $100 per day to lease the property until the condemnation proceedings are complete.
The question is who really wins in this government entity showdown? Certainly not the taxpayers. It appears taxpayers are being held hostage, being forced to pay twice for property that has lain dormant for more than a decade, a master plan growing dusty on a shelf somewhere. Johnson County officials reneged on their promise to make Big Bull Creek Park usable within five years, so why seek to reach into taxpayers pockets again? Park Board members are acting more like land speculators than county officials. Through the eminent domain proceedings, courts are once again being asked to decide issues better decided by government officials and staff in a common sense manner – putting taxpayers ahead of territorial and ego-driven decisions.