Sand Creek Station golf course has a problem — though it's exactly the sort of problem city officials would like the course to have.The course is experiencing some "growing pains" and is running out of room to serve its customers. At the Newton City Commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners approved the purchase of additional land for increased parking space and other possible future expansion projects.“We knew this was coming, and we’ve kind of delayed it until we had to," said Commissioner Ken Hall. "We have to make a decision or be landlocked.”City Attorney Bob Myers said the approximately three-acre tract will be purchased from Nat Development for $75,000.About a year ago, the Nattier family purchased farmland and undeveloped lots around the Sand Creek Station golf course. Bob Nattier said when the development was first purchased, he was aware of the golf course's future parking needs and asked commissioners to make a decision so the developers could move forward with plans for the rest of the property.“We wanted to get together and clear this issue up," he said. "... We really need to know so we can continue with our process.”Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the purchase.“I think the Nattiers have been very good to work with, and I appreciate what (they are) doing out there," Commissioner Jim Nickel said.
Other businessAt Tuesday's meeting, Newton city commissioners also heard an update from City Manager Randy Riggs about the city's advocacy of passenger rail.Previously, city commissioners voted to enter into an interlocal agreement with cities along the Southwest Chief Amtrak route. The agreement formalized the commission’s previous commitment to provide up to $15,000 in funding for the purpose of hiring the firm Alston & Bird of Washington, D.C., to work on preserving the Southwest Chief’s current route.“I think your money that you pooled with Hutchinson and Garden City and Dodge City is money that is well spent," Riggs told commissioners at Tuesday's meeting. "... It speaks well about your awareness of issues that are much larger than just our boundaries."The current Southwest Chief route, which includes a section of aging track between Newton and Raton, N.M., is declining in quality, and Amtrak is considering bypassing western Kansas and Colorado. Several other cities in the region also have contributed financially to the project to preserve the current route.The Southwest Chief runs between Chicago and Los Angeles and includes a stop in Newton. Amtrak has been using some tracks owned by the BNSF railway company for the Southwest Chief, but the differing standards required by the two companies have created some complications. Due to deteriorating track conditions, the track between Newton and Raton has had its speed limit reduced from 90 mph to about 80 mph, and even 60 mph in some locations. Although the BNSF only needs track that is safe for a speed limit of about 45 mph, Amtrak would like to operate its trains much faster.“The rail is getting bad in several places," Commissioner Nickel said.Nickel said the efforts to save passenger rail are of "great interest" to the people in western Kansas and Colorado. Without it, people might have to drive several hours to access air travel or another form of public transportation.BNSF and Amtrak need to decide by 2014 whether to proceed with track renovations or seek an alternate route for the Southwest Chief that would pass through Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, and avoid western Kansas and Colorado. Track use agreements between BNSF and Amtrak expire on Jan. 1, 2016. Estimated cost to repair the Newton to Raton track segment is about $100 million.Riggs said he is optimistic that BNSF and Amtrak will be able to reach an agreement.“They want things to work out on the existing route,” he said.