But all the talk should be transparent

Last updated: October 25. 2013 2:50PM - 1490 Views

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The all-volunteer Friends of the Cheraw to Society Hill Rails is spearheading an effort that could boost tourism, increase residents’ quality of life and offer a local, daily opportunity to improve one’s physical fitness all at the same time.

The property in question is situated from the centerline of the Burlington Drive road crossing, near Society Hill, and extends to the south line of Market Street in Chesterfield and Darlington counties. The current focus is on a four-mile stretch from ACL Avenue to Cheraw State Park.

This process, aided by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington D.C., can often take quite a while. It seems, though, that members of this group are in it for the long haul. And they’re willing to negotiate. Already, they’ve talked the South Carolina Central Railroad Company down to a purchase price of $160,000 for the 12.8-mile stretch of land. We all know that as soon as desire for an object is known, the price goes up. The original asking price was $1 million. Then $600,000.

That is a great first step. Now, the group is asking for general letter of support from the Cheraw Town Council. Inevitably, public dollars will be sought to assist in the completion of this process — although exactly how much remains to be seen. It’s possible public funding is requested from Cheraw, as well as Chesterfield and Darlington county commissions. The group would be wise to see if any state funding or grants are available as well.

There is a deadline for this to happen; the Surface Transportation Board, under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Transportation, oversees this process. The issue is to be on the Cheraw Town Council’s Nov. 12 public meeting agenda.

For it or against it, we hope residents show up at the meeting and voice their opinion. After all, that’s how government is supposed to work. We also hope the town’s elected officials have the willingness to consider all viewpoints and the courage to not let the loudest voice seem like it’s speaking for the majority.

In nearly every jurisdiction in which a similar group seeks to convert an abandoned rail line into a recreational trail, the NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard — attitude comes out. At least for now, it has quelled two-thirds of this project already. Naysayers, many of whom are property owners whose properties are adjacent to the proposed route, also stand to benefit.

That doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t be made aware of any deals until the deal is done. It was requested of the Chronicle that it wait to publish reporter Karen Kissiah’s story on the subject until after the Nov. 12 meeting. As you can read on page 1A, that’s a request with which we did not comply. The public has a right to be informed and it’s the Chronicle’s perogative to report the issue in a timely manner. After all, that’s what a newspaper does.

There’s fear of all types of illegal behavior that could occur on the trail as it winds through the Chesterfield countryside. Research has shown, however, that this often is overhyped. The worst fears of propery owners are rarely, if ever, realized, and incidents that do occur can be handled properly by authorities on a case-by-case basis.

This rail trail could be a win-win for elected officials, property owners and trail enthusiasts alike. Generally, people often look for quality-of-life assests, like this trail could be, in a community when looking to relocate.

If there is a proper mix of private and public funding, then we’re hopeful the Cheraw Town Council moves forward with a general letter of support and soon places it appropriately on its list of priorities.

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