The Transylvania Times -

Proposed Ecusta Trail Gets $6.4 Million Boost – Transylvania County, NC

 

August 12, 2019

Transylvania County officials remain “neutral” on the proposed Ecusta Trail after it was announced last week that Conserving Carolina was awarded a $6.4 million N.C. Department of Transportation grant toward possibly buying the rail corridor between Hendersonville and Brevard.

Conserving Carolina, Friends of the Ecusta Trail and other partners will need to raise at least $1.6 million to match the grant funding.

Friends of The Ecusta Trail was founded in 2009 as a volunteer organization to advocate for the purchase and development of the proposed Ecusta Trail. Their efforts over the past nine years have included garnering endorsements for the trail by the cities of Brevard and Hendersonville, the town of Laurel Park and Henderson County commissioners, in addition to nearly 50 other nonprofits and organizations throughout Western North Carolina. Transylvania County, however, has been a hold out.

“Over the past several years Transylvania County government has been neutral on the Ecusta Rails to Trails concept because the rail line is owned by a private company, which has been actively marketing its asset for rail use,” said Commission Chairman Mike Hawkins in a prepared statement. “The Board of Commissioners considers this rail line a key component of economic development infrastructure for our county. That said, the board has never had ownership or control over the rail line and does not typically take positions on the business activities of property owners, as long as they meet all applicable laws. Watco (the railway line owners) is free to value and utilize its asset however it sees fit, within federal, state and local regulations.

“As an organization, we look forward to continuing to support Watco or any subsequent owner to navigate decisions regarding usage of the asset as an economic development driver for our county and region.”

Ecusta Trail board member Chris Burns said N.C. Rep Chuck McGrady, who supports the trail’s formation, informed the group several weeks ago about the potential funding.

The Friends groups asked Conserving Carolina to take the lead in the grant application process. Conserving Carolina submitted the grant application in July. Conserving Carolina has retained appraisal and surveying contractors, and both processes are well underway along the corridor, according to a press release.

The proposed greenway would run from Kanuga Road in Hendersonville to the old Ecusta plant property in Brevard, between Ecusta Road and Old Hendersonville Highway. This rail line has been inactive since the Ecusta cigarette paper plant closed its doors in 2002.

The greenway would not include 1mile of the rail line from its connection near the Hendersonville City Operations Center to Kanuga Road in Hendersonville.

Earlier this year, Blue Ridge Southern Railroad successfully applied to have this section of the line reactivated for service. The company intends to use this section to “switch” rail cars that are stored along their rail line that runs along Spartanburg Highway through East Flat Rock.

One process that has been discussed is railbanking, which is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service, according to the release. Because a railbanked corridor is not considered abandoned, it can be sold, leased or donated to a trail manager. The railbanking provisions of the National Trails System Act, as adopted by Congress in 1983, have preserved more than 4,400 miles of rail corridors in 33 states.

Josh Hallingsee, the Transylvania Economic Alliance’s executive director, also submitted a statement on the grant funding.

“As the Ecusta Trail organization moves into the next phase of this proposed project it is the Alliance’s responsibility to voice known concerns and opportunities as we work in the best interests of existing and future employers directly impacted by this effort,” he said. “The Alliance is willing to work with the Ecusta Trail organization to identify the challenges and impacts that exist for employers, some of which represent our community’s most high-tech, well paying, careers.”

Conserving Carolina is a local land trust dedicated to protecting land and water, promoting good stewardship and creating opportunities for people to enjoy nature.

 
 

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