Andy, Opp commit to rails study

Published 2:27 am Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The cities of Andalusia and Opp this week took definitive steps toward making a proposed rails to trails project a reality in South Alabama.

Each city’s council voted this week to fund an environmental study necessary to move the project forward.

Andalusia City Clerk John Thompson said the Alabama Trails Commission and Forever Wild have both signed off to participate in making the project a reality.

“This is a many-years project,” Thompson said.

The project would bring a coalition together to purchase a 43-mile abandoned rail line that stretches from Andalusia to Geneva.

“This would be a perfect recreational trail and bring people to our community,” Thompson said. “Andalusia would be at the trail head, so we would stand to gain more traffic.”

Thompson said stakeholders have been with Brian Rushing of the University of Alabama Economic Development Office, who has provided assistance in putting the project together.

But the project can’t move forward until an environmental study is done. Geneva County, which is a member of the consortium supporting the project, has received a TAP grant to fund most of the environmental study, but it is a reimbursement grant; that is, the county will be reimbursed after the study is done.

With that in mind, the City of Andalusia agreed to pay $50,000 in up-front costs, and the City of Opp will pay $30,000 for the environmental study. Each municipality should receive reimbursement for 80 percent of the costs, Thompson said.

The study will be conducted by CDG Engineers, which submitted the low bid.

“We are actually committing $10,000 when it is all said and done,” Thompson said.

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said he has met with the Forever Wild board, which gave a favorable recommendation to the project. That organization, which purchases and preserves lands for public use, would ultimately negotiate a purchase of the land from the railroad, Johnson said.

“There are a number of these trails around the country,” Johnson said. “There are a couple in Alabama that are very successful, and there are several in Mississippi and Texas. This brings a lot of folks to your community.”

The trails are used by people who enjoy biking, walking and hiking, he said.

“This is a marathon, not a dash,” Johnson said. “We’ll be talking about this for year, and possibly those who come after us will, too.”

Council members were supportive.

“This is sort of like Candyland,” Councilman Terry Powell said. “We stepped out and tried that, and look at the success.”