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Covington joins rail case, wants payment for easements

COVINGTON — While one trails organization wants to purchase and create new walking trails along a railroad corridor, property owners want to be paid for their easements.

The city of Covington decided to join forces with the other landowners in a case against the federal government to receive payment for their property along the Norfolk Southern line.

The National Trails System Act created in the 1980s allows railroads to convert unprofitable railroad corridors into recreational trails. When Norfolk Southern line applied to abandon the railroad corridor in 2010, it asked Newton County, the city of Covington and the city of Newborn if they were interested in purchasing the land for $1.8 million.

No one accepted the offer, but now Newton County Trail – Path Foundation Inc. is interested in the land and has been working with Norfolk Southern to acquire it through purchase or donation to use it as a public trail.

“Once the rail line abandoned the corridor, the land should’ve gone back to the landowners who are adjacent to the line. They have the right to be paid for their easements if a trail is going to run through their property,” said Leigh Anne Knight, city manager for Covington, said. “The most efficient way to go about this was to join the landowners in this case. There are lawyers dedicated to these types of cases who research how much land we have and how much it’s worth. They present that information to the court and the judge will rule on what the payment easement will be, if anything.”

The City Council voted 3-2 to join the case with Councilmen Chris Smith and Keith Dalton against. Councilwoman Janet Goodman was absent.