Tryon holds off on rails to trails support following complaints

Published 10:00 pm Friday, March 31, 2017

Saluda City Council to discuss resolution in April

TRYON – The Town of Tryon is holding off approving a resolution in support of a rails to trails project through downtown after a group of property owners came to the town’s meeting and expressed strong opposition to the project.

Tryon Town Council met Tuesday, March 21 with town manager Zach Ollis saying the City of Landrum has started more discussions about the rail line from Inman, S.C. to East Flat Rock, N.C., and is asking for the rails to trails project to be lifted off the ground. Ollis said the resolution before council would put the town firmly behind the Saluda Grade Trail Committee and their commitment to working toward turning the “W Line” into a rails to trails project.

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Tryon resident Joyce Kimpton said she grew up in Tryon and has lived here her whole life.

“The last time rails to trails came up no property owner was approached before the resolution was done,” Kimpton said.

Kimpton said Tryon passed a resolution in 2010, followed by the county approving a resolution in support. After that, residents went and expressed their concerns. Polk County then rescinded their support of the rails to trails project after hearing residents’ concerns.

“I don’t think y’all understand how close this is going to be to my property,” Kimpton said. “This is in my backyard.”

Kimpton said the town’s police response is from 20 minutes to several hours and asked council how they think they have police coverage for rails to trails.

Kimpton said she has a notebook full of comments in the Tryon Daily Bulletin.

“I just wish y’all would think twice about what you’re trying to do again,” Kimpton said. “We don’t need to be railroaded one more time.” 

Commissioner Bill Crowell said since he owns two properties on the tracks, he would make a motion to approve the resolution. Crowell said the project is good for the community and tourism for Polk County.

“People that use rails to trails don’t throw trash, they pick up trash,” said Crowell.

From the audience, Kimpton disagreed.

Gary Walker said people will stray off the trail, adding that if people stayed on trails, nobody would ever die at Big Bradley Falls. Walker said no one is around to protect the property owners and their properties go to the center of the railroad track.

Holly Burns asked who is going to keep people off their property. She also said her taxes will go “sky high.”

But Steve King said he owns about 300 yards on the railroad and is happy the town is going to do this.

“I’ve yet to hear anything negative about rails to trails,” King stated.

He said he is sure there are negatives, but he’s all for it, and he hoped the town would pass the resolution.

“I think it will be a big benefit to the community,” King said. “I think it’s going to bring a tremendous amount of people into the community.”

Walker asked if anyone has looked at places where the railroad tracks are totally gone and how is the town going to make it safe for anybody to walk across.

“The railroad can’t even use it now,” Walker said. “Has anybody even laid their eyes on it?”

Commissioner Crys Armbrust said that he has, and he thinks Norfolk Southern, the railroad owner, could fix it. Walker responded that the railroad company would not fix it for a walking trail.

Kimpton asked whether Norfolk Southern has said they are giving up the trail, or if it was still considered active. Armbrust replied that he spoke to people in Roanoke the previous week, and learned the railroad has designated it inactive.

Kimpton replied, “Let’s see it in writing. Show it.”

Ollis suggested that he should convene a meeting with the property owners and  bring the resolution back in April for consideration. The board agreed and Ollis asked residents at the meeting to sign a paper with their emails so he could schedule a meeting. Armbrust said that the municipalities impacted by a rails to trails should approach Norfolk Southern as a unified voice.

It was in 2011 following the county approving a resolution in support of a rails to trails that then Saluda Grade Rail Committee member Andy Millard made a public apology to property owners because they weren’t consulted on plans for a trail along the railroad. The committee held a meeting with the property owners in March 2011 and in April 2011, the county rescinded its support of the resolution because of the property owners’ concerns as well as county officials speaking to Norfolk Southern, who at the time said the rails were still active.

Ryan Whitson, who was the county manager at the time, said that Norfolk Southern would not give up the rails because the line was still active, and Ray Gasperson, then county chair, said he also spoke to Norfolk Southern. He was told then there is an abundance of coal in the country and if they start exporting coal out of Charleston, S.C. there was no doubt trains would be seen on the line.

Recent action trying to gain support has come from a draft letter from Landrum Mayor Bob Briggs to Norfolk Southern, a copy of which was sent to the Town of Tryon, and provided to the Bulletin by Ollis.

Saluda City Manager Jon Cannon said Friday that Saluda has also received a copy and that the city will put the issue and resolution on the agenda for their April commissioner meeting.

Briggs’ letter was addressed to Norfolk Southern, stating Briggs is aware that Norfolk Southern has already disposed of 26 miles of track from Asheville to East Flat Rock in 2014 via a sale to Blue Ridge Southern Railroad.

Briggs also said in Norfolk Southern’s strategic plan in December 2015, the company planned to reduce corporate expenses by $650 million by 2020 and to dispose of or downgrade 1,500 miles of secondary lines by year 2020, including 1,000 miles in 2016.

Briggs continued to say that our towns and people have strong interest in acquiring the idle W line from Inman, S.C. to East Flat Rock, a total of approximately 31 miles of track. He suggested, since the line involved two states, setting up a meeting, in Atlanta or on-site with Norfolk Southern’s property manager, with himself and the Tryon mayor.

Read the resolution here.