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Trail extension jeopardized by possible loss of funds / July 29, 2020
With work stalled on a 0.6-mile extension of the Tobacco Heritage Trail near Alberta, the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission is threatening to rescind a $104,000 grant to Roanoke River Rails to Trails for the project.

Sangi Cooper with the Southside Planning District Commission told members of the Rails to Trails Committee this week that when the Virginia Tobacco Commission approved the $104,066 grant, it was with the understanding that the Town of Alberta would add nearly six miles to the trail — the initial 0.6 mile extension and another 5.2 miles that would run from Alberta to Danieltown.

The first 0.6-mile portion of the trail was bid in November 2019. The lowest bid came in at $361,968, more than $75,000 over what engineers had estimated for the cost of the project.

Cooper said there is barely enough money available to pay for the first 0.6 miles, let along the additional 5.2-mile extension.

In addition to the Tobacco Commission money, the Southside Planning District Commission secured $396,395 from VDOT through its MAP-21 grant program and another $20,500 from the Town of Alberta and Rails to Trails for the project. Just over $127,000 has been spent from the budget on design and other prep work, leaving only $393,560 for construction plus contingency.

Cooper attributed the high bids to the Town of Alberta wanting the 0.6-mile stretch of the trail to be paved with asphalt.

Sandra Tanner, who created the Tobacco Heritage Trail and was the first president of the Rails to Trails board, said the project should never have called for asphalt. Prior directors of the Rails to Trails board had agreed that all future portions of the trail would be gravel.

Part of the path near La Crosse is covered with asphalt, but only because there were issues with the gravel, Tanner said.

Cooper said attempts have been made to rebid the project, but VDOT approval is needed first and that has not been forthcoming.

C.J. Dean, who served on the Rails to Trails board while he was Town Manager in Lawrenceville, and who was present at Monday’s board meeting on behalf of his new employer, the Town of South Hill, suggested the board should relinquish the Tobacco Commission money, and rebid the project.

Without support from the other members of the board, his proposal was dropped. Instead, it was agreed that Dixie Walker, as the Brunswick County representative on the multi-county board, would work with the Brunswick County Board of Supervisors on recommendations for the Alberta-to-Danieltown trail extension.

Cooper reminded the board they had a short window to act on the rail project since the Tobacco Commission will decide whether to revoke or extend the grant at the next meeting scheduled in September.

Rails to Trails board president Jimmy Walter pointed out that before any work can commence on the 5.2 mile extension in Brunswick County, the organization must acquire a piece of the trail owned by Service Master, an Illinois-based corporation.

Tanner did not seem to think the acquisition would be a problem since the property was about to be sold at a tax sale. The board agreed to acquire the property, which has a tax value of $2,000 and a tax lien of $600.

In other business, Chad Neese with the Southside Planning District Commission unveiled an updated website for the Tobacco Heritage Trail. “It is not completed. This is only conceptual,” he said. He also announced that VDOT had tentatively awarded $471,812 for construction of a 550-foot stretch of trail in Lawrenceville. It would run from Second Street to Heritage Park and include ADA-style ramps, and he is working with VDOT to get a trail usage count in the La Crosse area.

Carl Espy, Town Manager for Halifax, said a 1.3 mile extension of the Tobacco Heritage Trail in South Boston and Halifax County was completed July 20.

Becky Giovanetti, who represents trail users on the board, asked for and received approval to repair fencing along portions of the trail in La Crosse that have fallen or been knocked down.

Walters said there are a number of parcels of land not owned by Rails to Trails that are cutting off the trail. He asked board members in each county to locate these properties and identify the owners. He said he was aware of at least three parcels between Wooden Bridge Road in Baskerville and the Town of Boydton that are not owned by Rails to Trails but need to be purchased.

Walters also asked the board to think about hiring a new trail coordinator to oversee operations. The Tobacco Heritage Trail has been without a trail coordinator for some time, he said, and this needs to be rectified.

He explained that the Southside Planning District Commission has agreed to fund 50 percent of the salary for the position and provide office space. The Rails to Trails board would be responsible for the balance. First, the board must find additional money to cover the salary for the position since they have less than $62,000 in their coffers.

South Hill American Legion Post 79 recently donated $1,000 for trail maintenance but Walters said they were seeking additional donations.

Andy Wells with the Southside Planning District Commission updated the board on projects he’s undertaken on behalf of the Tobacco Heritage Trail. He is working on new information kiosks for the seven trailhead sites in Brunswick, Mecklenburg and Halifax counties. He is developing an updated map of the trail that will identify the trail assets (benches, kiosks, etc.) He is also working on an “administrative map” that will identify the parcels of land that make up the trail, who owns what and where there are easements.

The next meeting of the Rails to Trails board is Oct. 26 at 10 a.m.

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