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Posted: December 9, 2011 12:00 a.m.

‘It’s the spending, stupid!’

Bill Clinton successfully used the phrase “It’s the economy, Stupid!” in his campaign for the presidency in 1992. Today, with the burgeoning deficit and economic disaster facing all Americans, the clarion call should be “It’s the spending, Stupid!”  It’s not a case of insufficient tax revenue. We are over taxed, over regulated and drowning in mandatory entitlements. The task of finding fiscal responsibility to salvage our country from disaster begins at home on the local, county and state level. If we do not secure fiscal conservancy, less government intrusion and reduced spending on the local level, we will never gain control of Washington on a federal level. 

The city of Covington Mayor, Kim Carter, has resurrected the Rails to Trails Project and formed a committee to study the issue and make recommendations.

At a time when Newton County and the country are experiencing record breaking high levels of unemployment, we should not be entertaining unnecessary discretionary spending in our own backyard regardless of the ethereal attraction of seemingly idyllic green programs.

Citizens of the city of Covington struggle to pay their inordinately high electrical power bills to heat their homes. Newton County is now experiencing 35 home foreclosures per week. Not to mention the human tragedy of these home foreclosures and the disintegration of our societal structure, it is simultaneously eroding the tax base, further reducing revenues. 

Hello! “It’s the spending, Stupid!”

Have we lost all capacity to think through issues and lose the political speak for plain talk and common sense? There is no money to provide anything other than essential services to support our community and try to promote growth and jobs. 

The federal grant funds assumed to be used for this project are issued to Newton County. Mayor Carter has stated that these funds can be accessed by the city without approval of Newton County. I do not believe this to be true since all the government officials that I have contacted advise that it must be initiated by Newton County.

Further to the issue, the projected cost of the project published to the public is drastically understated. There are three railroad trestles that are in a mortal state of deterioration and would need to be replaced at considerable expense and numerous railroad crossings that require renovation and traffic protocol. 

Having managed the design and construction of many significant projects as a professional, I can advise that maintenance and operating costs almost always exceed the first cost of project development. This is an asset that requires constant regular maintenance to maintain its condition and safety and to prevent the property from becoming an eyesore. There must be a program developed, funds acquired to defray the costs and personnel dedicated to execute the program.

Lighting must be provided, especially at road crossings, bridges and areas near public activity. This is not just some light poles and fixtures but the design and construction of a complete system of electrical power utility distribution.  

Hazardous material remediation is a significant requirement and would be a very expensive cost to the project. There have been four fertilizer warehouses located on the railroad right of way where arsenic was handled for the treatment of boll weevils on cotton plants. There will most likely be arsenic spillage absorbed in the soil at these locations. The contaminated soil will require remediation and disposal.

In addition, asbestos was deposited at any location where the train applied its brakes traveling along the route.  This will probably encompass a large area since the trains normally had to apply brakes on the approach grade into Covington. The expense of soil remediation will be very costly to perform and is not included in the projected cost of the project. 

The existing rail ties are treated with creosote,which has been leached out and absorbed by the soil. The contaminated soil must be remediated, which requires removal and disposal to an EPA Hazardous Material Disposal Site.

The cost of hazardous material remediation would is so high as to be prohibitive to the commission of the project.

“It’s the spending, Stupid!”

There are undefined costs associated with this project that have not been quantitatively evaluated. Any additional significant costs to the city or county are not acceptable and must be removed from further consideration.

Private land owners along the railroad right of way are united in their opposition to the project. They had not been advised of the intent to convert a rail line to a public access corridor adjacent to their private property. The citizens and private landowners most affected by the creation of a public access route were not consulted or included in any studies or discussions. There are unique and inherent impacts to each individual property.

Undoubtedly, there are some citizens who own property along the proposed Rails to Trails right of way in the city of Covington who would profit from the development of this project. This is a strong influence that is not readily evident but very real. Typical of controversial public programs pending approval, there are two separate proponents of the program. There are those who support the program for the biking and hiking trails and those who seek the financial gain produced by the development of property. 

Simply put, “It’s the spending, Stupid!” We must not proceed any further with this project.

 

William Perugino is active in local and regional politics and can be reached at william.perugino@jacobs.com.

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