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Railroad memorandum OK'd

COVINGTON — A memorandum of understanding regarding the Norfolk Southern rail line has now been approved by the cities of Oxford, Mansfield, Porterdale and Newborn and the nonprofit Newton County Trails-Path Foundation.

Late last week, Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan produced a copy of the document signed by all four mayors and Maurice Carter, chairman of the Trails-Path Foundation.

"We're going to be moving forward," he said.

The Newborn and Porterdale councils were first to approve the agreement, which expresses interest in purchasing nearly 14 miles of rail line and its conversion into a trail.

Sheridan previously told the Citizen the memorandum is an attempt to get an organized group together so discussions with Norfolk Southern and the office of Jim Marshall can proceed.

Marshall obtained a $1.06 million grant for Newton County to purchase the rail line and for a rails to trails project, but Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said she does not have a consensus from commissioners to bring that to a vote. The Covington City Council voted 5-to-1 not to pursue a purchase in April.

Sheridan is hoping the grant can be transferred to another entity, though he said at this time, it remains unclear who would be the recipient and if that can happen. A spokesman with Marshall's office said the grant can be transferred, but can only go toward a rails to trails project.

"I thought the county and city voted for it, but I was wrong. We just want to see the county and everybody get it and develop it," said Mansfield Mayor Bill Cocchi. "As far as putting any money into it, we don't have any money to put in."

While there is a grant that will apparently pay for much of the cost to purchase the line, Cocchi said the cost to convert it to a trail and maintain it remains to be seen.

"If (the county and city) aren't going to be a part of (financing) it, we're not either," he said. He said the approval of the MOU was more an expression of support than a commitment. The agreement says none of the participants are funding.

Sheridan said he hopes the partnership with the Trails-Path Foundation will help finance the project, and the group can use its non-profit status to secure donations. He said he plans to meet with representatives of Norfolk Southern and Marshall's office again soon.