It seems that the more I delve into the facts surrounding the process of the acquisition of the Norfolk Southern Railroad Right of Way and its conversion to trails, the more clear it becomes that the entire endeavor is much more costly and complex than previously portrayed.
There has been no evidence identified that will confirm that the Federal Transportation Grant issued to Newton County for the purchase of the right of way can be reassigned to the city of Covington. Quite the contrary, documents relating to the grant stipulate that the funds must be reprogrammed by Congress to another entity if not used by the county.
The grant was issued under Public Law No. 111-8 by the U.S. Congress to Newton County to help fund the purchase of the railroad right of way described and cannot be used for any other purpose. These funds have been assigned by law to Newton County.
The County Board of Commissioners has formally voted not to proceed with the purchase of the railroad right of way or further entertain such a motion. Furthermore, the Board of Commissioners has made no request for the grant to be reassigned.
If the county were to request that another entity assume responsibility, it would require that a motion of the Board of Commissioners be passed to submit a formal request through our representative to the House Appropriations Committee to reprogram the funds.
This has not happened. The process to reprogram the funds can take up to a year.
During the work session conducted by the city council to discuss the purchase of the railroad right of way on December 9, at City Hall the Mayor, Kim Carter, read aloud from a document that portrayed the federal grant as having been reassigned to the city.
The facts surrounding the purchase of the right of way continue to point to ever increasing out-of-pocket cost to the city. The funds from the grant are reimbursable for the cost expended. Should the grant funds be secured by the city, the expenses to satisfy all requirements must be paid before recovery of those costs.
There are certain requirements of the grant through the Georgia Department of Transportation that must be satisfied before the right of way is secured.
The city must engage a prequalified consultant to prepare all documents required for submittal. This would include a concept report, environmental studies, right of way survey plans and a detailed cost estimate. These are not cheap services and the cost must be spent before submittal for approval by GDOT. All this happens before the right of way is obtained and the conversion to trails begins.
This is money we do not have and yes; "It's Still the Spending, Stupid!"
If somehow this boondoggle of a program got started, it would be an endless money drain.
William Perugino is active in local and regional politics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.