Newton County Trails and the hotel/civic center project got a boost with the announcement by Congressman Jim Marshall that a $500,000 earmark to help the two efforts had made it into a federal spending bill which is expected to be shortly signed by President George Bush.
The funding can be used for the purchase of right-of-way owned by Norfolk Southern Railway and for the design and planning of converting that ROW into walking trails. The purchased ROW can be located in Porterdale, Covington and Shady Dale though Doug Moore, communications director for Rep. Marshall (D-Macon), said most of the purchased ROW will likely be located in Covington.
"I am pleased to announce funding for this project," said Marshall in a press release. "I worked hard to ensure this project survived the appropriations process, and I'm very happy with the results."
The funding can also be used to purchase ROW sought by the city of Covington to be turned into a parking lot to support the hotel/civic center.
"They can use these funds for the whole kit and caboodle," Moore said "They can use (the funding) for the planning as well as the acquisition."
Covington Mayor Sam Ramsey, who was in talks with Marshall about the funding allocation, said he was unsure up until the very end whether or not the earmark would make it into the spending bill.
"We've been talking about it, but I didn't know whether it was going to happen," Ramsey said adding that he was grateful to Marshall for working with the city and Newton County to obtain the necessary funding.
David Waller, trails coordinator for the non-profit Newton County Trails, said he was also in talks with Marshall's office about funding for the trails project which is called Rails to Trails.
"As more of a national thing, there's been a lot of railroads that they've taken out of commission," Waller said. "Basically, you're converting railway right-of-ways to hiking and biking trails."
Newton County Trails has already built several model walking trails in Oxford and Porterdale which the organization hopes will eventually be linked together through Covington.
The earmark was included in The Foreign Operations Appropriations/Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008. The House of Representatives and Senate have both passed the legislation, which is the eleventh of twelve annual appropriation bills.
President Bush indicated on Thursday that he was prepared to sign the legislation before the end of the year.
The bursting spending bill included 9,000 earmarks costing $7.4 billion. According to Moore there were 20 earmarks in the bill designated for projects in District 8.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.