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Posted: May 7, 2010 12:30 a.m.

The tracks behind my house

When I was a kid, the fence that separated the black section of the Covington City Cemetery from the white section was directly behind my house. In the 1970s the city paved a new road from the end of the black section, and connected it to where the white folks are buried. That created a great deal of new foot traffic, and a little automobile traffic, that had never existed before, directly behind the house. I recall coming home from college and hearing people walk and drive by. It was new and remarkable.

My family and I live in that house now. The family plot — 80 feet behind the house — is where my mother, uncles and sons are buried and is, indeed, where I will be laid to rest. I am fifth-generation Newton Countian.

Along with a lot of other people, we walk, jog, and ride bikes in the cemetery for pleasure and exercise. Everyday, when I am home from the road, I "cut through" the cemetery on my bike on my way to the bank and the post office. As with other parks in Covington, the cemetery is maintained by well-supervised men who dress as sticks of orange-flavored Fruit Stripe Gum.

It is part of my profession to point out absurdities and incongruities. So here’s one: nobody is going to put a train behind my house. It would be disturbing indeed for the happy sounds of children and families walking or cycling six feet from my yard to be replaced by the rumble of industrial transportation at any hour of the day or night.

I know; this is silly.

So now, for 14.9 miles through our county, the rumble of industrial transportation — the train — is gone. The city and the county can do any number of things with that property, or we can let the tracks remain there, vacant. (Uh-oh).

We in our community have an amazing opportunity, even "with the economy as it is." From what I learned at the meeting at Covington City Hall on April 29, this project could almost (possibly) pay for itself through the leases of telecommunication and technology service providers that the new owners would hold. Only we don’t know what that amount is. Decisions have been made without this information.

Without a non-binding Letter of Interest to the current owners of the tracks, the Norfolk Southern Corporation, we simply cannot know what revenues can be obtained from owning the railroad corridor.

The meeting at City Hall on April 29 was — as we say in my business — "S.R.O." (standing room only). There is obviously a great deal of interest in this from all kinds of people, came-heres and been-heres alike. I feel it behooves the Covington City Council and the County Commissioners to revisit this issue by creating the Letter of Interest. Only then can they make a fully informed decision.

Everyone who knows me knows I love my community. They also know I am a braggart. And, selfishly put, I would love to go throughout the United States and say, "Y’all, we did the coolest thing with the train tracks in my town!"

Andy Irwin is a resident of Covington and a professional storyteller, arts educator, singer-songwriter and humorist

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