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Trails foes are gaining momentum

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

COVINGTON -- A growing number of Newton County residents are making their opposition to the proposed rails to trails project known.

About 200 signs proclaiming "No Rails to Trails" have sprung up throughout the county in recent weeks. The signs are being placed at the request of property owners by members of a citizen's opposition group, some of whom have property near the railroad and others who just think it's a bad idea.

"With these economic times, as desperate as they are for tax revenue, it doesn't make sense to us. We've got to set our priorities on fixing roads and bridges. We've got to have schools, we've got to pay this debt service," said Buddy Morgan, a member of the group whose property is bisected by the railroad.

The group has had three meetings during the last year and a half, ranging in attendance from 40 to 100 people, and now has a website, www.derailthetrail

.com. Morgan said those distributing the signs are getting flagged down on the road by residents who want them to place in their yards.

"We're not having problems getting our message out there. We're not against trails. We just don't feel like this is a good place to put a trail," Morgan said.

The county has a federal grant of $1.06 million to apply toward the purchase of about 15 miles of the Norfolk Southern rail line running from Covington to Porterdale and Newborn. Chairman Kathy Morgan, who is Buddy Morgan's sister-in-law, has said she does not have a consensus from the Board of Commissioners to bring the matter to a vote. The Covington City Council voted earlier this year that it would not pursue the purchase. Meanwhile, the town of Newborn, cities of Oxford, Mansfield and Porterdale and the nonprofit Newton County Trails-Path Foundation have all signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to pursue the purchase, although how they will do that is not yet clear. The local governments have indicted they do not want to contribute funds to the project.

"We just think that even if the money is found from private sources, buying this thing is not a good mix for our part of the county. The majority of the people down there don't want it," Morgan said.

Guy McGiboney is one of those people. McGiboney owns a home in Covington and a cabin in Starrsville, where his property runs along about 2,500 feet of rail line. McGiboney said he doesn't want people leaving the trail and walking on his property. The cost to the county for maintenance and upkeep and security is also a concern, he said.

"I've always been pro things: I served on the school board and the recreation commission. But with the economy like it is now, it's uncalled for," he said. "We've got people out of jobs. Other priorities are needed much more than this. ... It's like buying a white elephant. I think we could see more tickets sold and make more money if we did buy a white elephant."

Morgan said as talks continue between local governments and the railroad, the citizens group wants to make its voice heard.

"We want to make sure folks know there is another side to this. It's not just District 5 and District 1 that's going to be affected. It's going to be everybody's pocketbook when it comes to county taxes."