Newborn, Porterdale join forces on railroad

NEWBORN -- The town of Newborn and city of Porterdale have entered into a memorandum of understanding to explore the possibility of purchasing approximately 14 miles of the Norfolk Southern rail line, and officials are hoping their counterparts in Oxford and Mansfield will do the same.

Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan is coordinating the effort between local municipalities in hopes of getting federal grant money to convert the rail line into a trail system transferred from Newton County to another entity, possibly the contingent of municipalities.

"The grant has to go to some organization. Originally, Covington was planning on doing it, and the county, but the county has not voted and Covington voted against it. My board decided maybe we ought to do something," Sheridan said.

Newborn sent a letter of interest to Norfolk Southern in May with the hope of obtaining more information about what a purchase would entail, and Sheridan has been in conversations with railroad representatives since that time.

"Norfolk Southern has been very friendly about this. The letter of interest was a door opener, and we're hoping this will be a catalyst. We're talking to all the towns hoping they'll jump on board," Sheridan said.

The support of the Newton County Trails-Path Foundation Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to building a county network of trails for pedestrians and bicyclists, is also being solicited. Sheridan said he hopes that organization can use its nonprofit status to help secure additional money for the project.

"We have to get some kind of entity together instead of having 10 or 15 people going in 15 directions. What we can do and how to do it, we don't know. We want to see the trail and we're doing whatever we can to get it," Sheridan said.

The Porterdale City Council approved the memorandum of understanding at a meeting Monday night. The measure was approved 4-1, with Councilman Robert Foxworth opposed.

Mayor Bobby Hamby said he and representatives from other interested local governments had met with a representative from Congressman Jim Marshall's office regarding the possibility of transferring Newton County's grant funds to another entity interested in acquiring the railroad right of way. Hamby said the meeting included representatives from Porterdale, Newborn, Covington Mayor Kim Carter, Newton County Commission Chairman Kathy Morgan and representatives from the Trails-Path Foundation.

Hamby told Porterdale council members that the MOU would keep lines of communication open with Norfolk Southern, allow the city to get more information about the railroad right of way acquisition and "basically try to move this thing forward."

According to Doug Moore, spokesman for Jim Marshall's office, the $1.06 million grant awarded to the county can be transferred to a single municipality, a group of municipalities or a nonprofit organization.

"We want to do what's right for the county. With respect to this, there's competing interests. If people absolutely don't want it, it's really up to them to decide. This is a substantial amount of money, and we're trying to help facilitate this as best we can," Moore said. He added that the grant can be used only for a rails to trail project.

The railroad previously offered to sell the rail line to Newton County for $1.8 million.

Morgan has said she does not have the support of her board to pursue the railroad purchase. The Covington City Council voted 5-1 in April not to pursue a purchase.

Editor Alice Queen contributed to this story.