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Voices of East Newton
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On Monday, May 18, a group of approximately 50 residents met at the Starrsville United Methodist Church to discuss a proposal by the Newton County Board of Commissioners to purchase the railroad spur running from Porterdale through Shady Dale. This connector would link Porterdale, Covington, Mansfield, Newborn and Shady Dale with government-owned land. This connector has been proposed as either a trails network to be used by bicyclers, joggers, hikers and dog walkers, or as a passenger rail line to ferry people between communities for work, shopping or dining. The people who met Monday came to voice strong opinions against this purchase, believing a trail system running adjacent to their property, or in many cases through it, could lead to an increase in crime or to the lowering of property values. Many others came looking for more information and some answers.

Answers were forthcoming from an invited representative of Jim Marshall's office. The representative stated that in an upcoming state transportation bill Newton County is to receive $622,250 for purchase of the rail line, another $237,250 for building a bridge over the Yellow River and an additional $142,500 for a Covington bypass tunnel. This purchase would allow the trail/rail line to move through Mansfield, continuing across the river, and safely pass over or under the Covington bypass into downtown Covington and on through to Porterdale. Again, the actual usage of this land is still being decided. Also, the majority of the money is for the purchase of the land and not its development. Much more money will be needed.

What surprised me the most during the meeting was not the concern about crime or diminishing property values, but the belief the expenses involved are just too great. The state of Georgia is seeding this project with nearly $1 million dollars. The asking price for just the rail line running from Porterdale to Newborn is reportedly to be $1.8 million. To purchase the line on through to Shady Dale would increase the cost to $3.2 million. These figures do not include the development of the property for either a trail system or a passenger rail line. The price also does not include the annual maintenance required or the legal costs that would surely incur by developing a 40-mile tract through property of landowners who despise the idea.

East Newton is a grouping of small rural communities who put more faith in its farm lands and quiet towns rather than the explosive growth experienced by Covington. Many view Covington as the far eastern reaches of Atlanta. These folks want that expansion to stop there. The idea that a relatively small group of Newton County commissioners could decide to intrude upon their lives, and through their properties, angers them. They ask you to imagine a strip of land running through your backyard on which you have no control, that anyone can use, and where you have no recourse. In the meeting people stood up to say they were sixth generation East Newton families whose land had been theirs for over a century. They do not view a train traveling through their property once a week as an intrusion, but possibly hundreds of bikers or walkers staring into windows or watching them play by the pool, would be considered an invasion of their privacy. Another said he had experienced a similar situation in another state where expenses had spiraled so out of control that the local towns were financially damaged for years. Many also cited crime as their major concern, and the Silver Comet Trail murder was mentioned often.

There are those who like the idea of a trail system; the linking of communities and lives. They like the idea of people from Covington or beyond seeing our beautiful, pastoral communities. This project could provide something to make Newton County, East Newton in particular, unique and special. East Newton goes largely ignored by the county in the scheme of things, and they would welcome the attention and development that may come.

The people heard from on Monday rightly question the future. Through generations of working this land, they have earned the right to have their voices heard. No one has consulted them on this plan, asked their opinion, or even let them know the purchase is being planned. If Newton citizens pay no mind to this issue, this may allow the county to ignore those who will be impacted the most.