NEWBORN -- The town of Newborn has sent a letter of intent to Norfolk Southern Corporation stating "our strong interest in purchasing the railroad right of way to Rails to Trails in Newton County."
The letter is in response to an e-mail sent by Norfolk Southern to Covington Mayor Kim Carter last week giving local officials a deadline of the end of the first quarter, or March 31, to purchase the property.
Asked if the town itself or the group of municipalities it has partnered with in recent months can afford to purchase the railroad right of way, Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan responded, "We're not to that point yet. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Carter said during her State of the City address that whatever entity or combination of entities purchases the property would likely have to pay around $900,000, but Sheridan said he has yet to get a firm price from the railroad.
Newborn, the cities of Oxford, Mansfield and Porterdale and the nonprofit Newton Trails Path Foundation sent a letter of interest to Norfolk Southern several months ago. Sheridan said the letter of intent from Newborn is "more serious," indicating a willingness to move forward with a purchase.
"We are advised that a 15-plus mile portion of the Norfolk Southern railroad runs between Porterdale and Newborn and is suitable for use as pedestrian and bicycle trails, and Newborn would be in a good staging area for users of the trail, especially bicyclists," the letter states. "The town wishes to show its support for Rails to Trails in Newton County, as such would help create a pedestrian and bicyclist corridor on the rail bed so as to advance downtown revitalization and be in the best interest of the citizens and promote the public health, safety and welfare."
The railroad previously gave a purchase price of $1.8 million. The county has a $1.1 million federal grant in place for the purchase. Officials have been trying to determine if the grant can be transferred to another entity.
The Covington City Council agreed last year not to pursue the purchase. Newton County commissioners have not publicly discussed the matter, as Chairman Kathy Morgan has said she doesn't have a consensus from the board to place it on a county agenda.