I found great irony in Nat Harwell’s suggestion a local government pursuing a "rails to trails" project is somehow "trying to subvert the will of the people." Interesting, since I have the same objection to any local government not willing to pursue such a project.
In 2005, Newton County and the City of Covington conducted a Livable Centers Initiative study of the U.S. Highway 278 corridor. Final recommendations included eight bicycle and pedestrian greenway projects — including a trail along the Great Walton Railroad Corridor. The study was carried out with extensive public input and participation in workshops that were advertised in both local newspapers, on cable TV and in notices sent with utility bills. In March 2006, the Newton County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution stating: "Newton County, Georgia embraces the recommendations from the Livable Centers Initiative Study, and supports public policies and private development activities designed to implement those recommendations." The City of Covington likewise embraced the recommendations with a similar resolution. And, both the county and city stressed their commitment to implement the LCI recommendations in their joint application to gain "Signature Community" status from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in 2006.
Just last year, the Newton County BOC unanimously approved and submitted to the DCA a Comprehensive Plan Community Agenda update containing more than 30 references to the public need for and the county’s commitment to provide bicycle and pedestrian trails and greenways throughout the county. One specific implementation strategy noted was to "support the construction of a trail system along the Alcovy River linking downtown Covington and the Starrsville community." As with the LCI study, the Comprehensive Plan update was made with extensive public input, gathered over two years of planning, with six highly publicized visioning workshops in all parts of the county.
DCA guidelines state: "The purpose of the Community Agenda is to lay out a road map for the community’s future, developed through a very public process of involving community leaders and stakeholders in making key decisions about the future of the community." And, also: "The Community Agenda is intended to generate local pride and enthusiasm about the future of the community, thereby making citizens wish to ensure that the plan is implemented."
The purpose of a Community Agenda is to avoid the exact situation we find ourselves in today, where the group who shouts loudest at the moment steers the ship, without regard for longer term plans or mutual direction.
I fully respect the rights of concerned citizens to speak out today about plans for the railroad. And, I want their concerns to be heard. But, I also expect my elected officials to stand by their commitments and respect the will of the people who took the time to participate, when asked, in the forging our shared vision, strategies and plans for our community. We have an agenda — a pact between ourselves as individual citizens and between us collectively and our government. And, it is wrong for Mr. Harwell or anyone else simply to pretend that agenda does not exist. For, doing so would be to subvert the will of the people.
Maurice Carter is president of the Covington-Conyers Cycling Club and husband of Covington Mayor Kim Carter.