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Porterdale weighs in on railroad purchase

PORTERDALE - The City Council was divided during a discussion Monday night on whether or not to offer its support of a proposal under consideration by Newton County to purchase 14 miles of railroad line. The line, owned by Norfolk Southern Railway, runs from Ga. Highway 81 in Porterdale, through Covington, and on to Rose Acres between Mansfield and Newborn.

Newton County Commission Chairman Kathy Morgan said last month that the railroad is interested in negotiating a sale with the county, although the county has not yet determined just how the right of way would be used.

Porterdale Councilman Lowell Chambers presented a resolution in support of the rail line purchase at Monday's council meeting and asked that council members to officially endorse the project. According to Chambers' resolution, "the preservation of a continuous strip of land for future use, whether for transportation, economic development, greenspace or recreation use, is a legitimate public purpose and is deserving of public investment."

"I believe we are in the second wave of the greening of America," Chambers told fellow council members, "and there is an evolution of awareness of things we need to do to improve our quality of life."

He pointed to recent media coverage of rails-to-trails projects in Marietta and Chamblee that have been well-received in those communities and have had a positive impact on economic development.

Chambers added that if the railroad property is not acquired by the county, its ownership will revert to adjoining property owners and the "opportunity for connectivity will be lost."

Mayor Bobby Hamby agreed that the railroad right of way should be preserved. He said he has long envisioned a trolley operating on the rail line that would provide transportation between Porterdale, Covington and Mansfield.

Hamby echoed Chambers' concern that the rail line property might revert to private ownership.

"I don't think we want to lose this opportunity," Hamby said.

Council members Robert Foxworth and Linda Finger expressed reservations about the resolution, both saying they wouldn't want such a trail on or near their property.

Foxworth said he knows people who have property along the line who are opposed to the county's possible creation of a walking trail.

"We've got to consider them ... and how this is going through their property at their back door," Foxworth said.

"I wouldn't want it in my backyard," Finger added.

Councilman Mike Harper said later that he needs more information before he can weigh in on the resolution one way or another.

"Right now I think for us to jump on the bandwagon for the county may be a little premature," Harper said. "I'd like for someone to do a survey of the property owners and see how it's going to affect them."

Harper added that, in general, he thinks trails provide a good opportunity for recreation.

"I'm not saying I'm against it; I'm not," he said. "I think it's a great thing. If we can put it in and not cause a lot of property owners grief, I think it would be a good thing for the county."

Councilwoman Arline Chapman was absent from the meeting.

Foxworth said he would invite property owners who would be affected by the rail line purchase to attend the council's work session on May 28 and provide their input.

Staff writer Crystal Tatum contributed to this report.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@newtoncitizen.com.