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Posted: June 3, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Porterdale balks rail resolution

Once again the Porterdale City Council did not approve a resolution that would have encouraged the Newton County Commission to purchase the rights of way of the Norfolk Southern rail lines that traverse the county.

At the council’s May meeting, Councilmember Lowell Chambers presented a resolution that, if signed, would have supported the county’s proposal to purchase the rail lines for the purpose of creating a countywide walking and biking trail.

Councilmembers stated at that meeting they did not want to support a trail system because they had heard resounding negative feedback from their constituents whose properties would be affected.

"The voters in this county are screaming ‘no,’" said Linda Finger, councilmember, at Monday’s meeting.

So, Chambers amended the resolution brought forth in May to state: "The preservation of a continuous strip of land for future use, whether for transportation, economic development, greenspace or recreation use, is a legitimate public purpose and is deserving of public investment."

He argued that a private speculator potentially could purchase the lines and perhaps that person’s intentions would not benefit the county at all.

"I don’t have a lot of trust in our county leaders at the moment," said Mike Harper, councilmember.

Councilmember Arline Chapman said that the council should consider the long range scope of the project.

"Community leaders come and go," she said, "and this project extends further."

She added that this situation had nothing to do with the problems they have experienced with the county over the cost of 911 dispatch fees and should not weigh on their decision to support the purchase of the lines. She also mentioned that one of the council’s primary goals was to generate tourism for the town and that purchase of the lines for any development would be a useful tool toward that end.

Finger said the council could not anticipate what the next group of county leaders would do with the lines either and that a walking trail was something she could not support because she had seen the "nightmare" one had caused in her hometown.

She continued saying that she thought the county would begin work on the lines immediately and spend taxpayer money on a project she had not heard many champion.

Chambers said the money to purchase the lines is earmarked by the federal government for that purpose and that any construction on the lines would put local residents, who could have possibly lost a job recently, to work.

"I think they should send that money back and say ‘put it to good use,’" Finger said.

Harper added that at a time when the county has had to lay off employees and face massive budget shortfalls, they should not be considering "pork" projects such as this.

Mayor Bobby Hamby reminded the council that Porterdale already owns the line crossing the city and that it would be a shame to be cut off from any future economic development planned by the county.

When voted upon the resolution was killed – as Councilmember Robert Foxworth was not present at Monday’s meeting the vote resulted in a tie with Finger and Harper opposing and Chapman and Chambers approving.

In other news from Porterdale’s Monday night meeting:

The council unanimously approved the creation of a Downtown Development Authority to promote the town’s central business district.

Under state statutes, the DDA already exists in Porterdale, but a board of directors had to be selected to initiate involvement with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The board will consist of seven members – two serving two-year terms, two serving four-year terms and three serving six-year terms. Serving two years will be Kim Harper and Mike Harper; serving four years will be Neal Lange and Jim Stalvey; and serving six years will be Monty Hill, Walter Davis III and John Boothby.

One member may be a member of the governing body of the municipality and one member may reside outside of the town as long as they own a business within the downtown development area.

Board members will be reappointed or new members selected for four year terms.

"I really feel like this is a big mark for us," said Sandy Fowler, downtown manager, "and we’re taking a step in the right direction."

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