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The Smart Growth Newton County board of directors is disappointed by the Covington City Council’s refusal to approve pursuing a nonbinding grant for funds to aid in conversion of unused rail lines in the city to walking and biking trails, should the rail lines be purchased. The grant investigation would have cost the city nothing; it would have simply added information to help the council weigh the merits and costs of trail use of the rail line.

The value of walking and biking trails to health, quality of life, community revitalization and the positive image of a community to potential new businesses has been proven over and over. Georgia already has 14 established, successful rail trails and several more in construction. Seventeen counties — Colquitt, Camden, Rabun, Bartow, Rockdale, Richmond, Muscogee, Coffee, Cobb, DeKalb, Paulding, Polk, Fulton, Bryan, Chattooga, Floyd and Chatham have rail trails for good reason: because they bring economic prosperity and health and wellness to residents of those counties. They also have been shown to increase property values.

The city of Covington has a long history of endorsing a multi-use trail system, and the city’s Comprehensive Plan adopted by the City Council in 2006 states clearly the city’s intent to build that trail system. The City Council also approved the U.S. Highway 278 Corridor Livable Centers Initiatives Study recommendations in 2006, which included a specific project to construct a multi-use trail along the Norfolk Southern rail corridor.

Smart Growth Newton County believes community-based planning efforts like the Comprehensive Plan and LCI study are essential for achieving quality of life and a prosperous, sustainable future for Covington and Newton County. We regret that our elected officials have chosen to ignore an opportunity that could reduce the costs to our citizens for a project to which they have already committed.

Jonathan Pascal is president of the Smart Growth Newton County board of directors. This column is a consensus of the entire board, which consists of Pascal, Maurice Carter, Sally Chamberlain, Lowell Chambers, Scott Cole, Linda Costley, Kenneth Eastman, Ellis Millsaps, Betsy Morehouse and Frank Turner Jr. For more information about Smart Growth, visit its Web site at