As a thank you for Fowler’s many years of service, the IDA donated $2,000 to the Newton County Trails-Path Foundation, because Fowler has been an outspoken advocate of purchasing the currently Norfolk Southern railroad and converting it into a trail.
On July 16, Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan brought a memorandum of understanding to further explore the possibility of purchasing the railroad, which had been signed by Sherdian, Mansfield Mayor William Cocchi, Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby, Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry and Newton Trails Chairman Maurice Carter. All signees had received authorization from their boards to join the effort.
Sheridan and the other mayors have said previously that they don't have money to purchase the railroad at the stated $1.8 million asking price, even if the more than $1 million in railroad-related federal grants, originally awarded to the Newton County, were transferred to them. However, the newly formed public-private partnership will give local officials more options to bridge any monetary gap.
According to a MOU, Newton Trails will be able to use its non-profit status to solicit donations. There has been significant community discussion about turning the railroad corridor into a multi-use path. In addition, conversion of the railroad into a trail is included in many previous county and city plans, including various transportation and comprehensive plans.
The recession has made all governments wary of spending money on any non-critical purchases, so the MOU states that no party would be required to fund any expenses.
Fowler previously told The News that seeing the railroad corridor converted to a trail would be a dream come true, and he has been instrumental in working with Sheridan to facilitate meetings with Norfolk Southern.
Editorial Note: Fowler left the county shortly after a ceremony held July 15 to honor him. A more in-depth piece on his service and the history of the Industrial Development Authority is planned for the future.