Rail Trail Foundation Formed

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Rails waiting to be sent to a salvage company lie along the railroad bed in Parksley on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

By Carol Vaughn —

The Accomack-Northampton Transportation District Commission in January adopted a resolution creating the Eastern Shore Rail Trail Foundation, a nonprofit corporation charged with heading up planning and design for a trail along around 50 miles of railroad right-of-way running along the spine of the Eastern Shore of Virginia between Cape Charles and Hallwood.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission issued a certificate of incorporation for the foundation Dec. 21.

Serving on its board of directors, with terms ending June 30, 2023, are Jim Outland, Canonie Atlantic Co. executive director; Oliver Bennett; and George Mapp.

Directors whose terms end June 30, 2024 are John Coker, Steve Sturgis, and Reneta Major.

Directors whose terms end June 30, 2025 are Franci Wayland, Jill Bieri, and Ron Wolff, the chairman.

The ANTDC requested initial funding for the foundation of $50,000 each from Accomack and Northampton counties.

Rails, ties, and signals from the railroad are being removed, starting in the north, after the most recent operator, Bay Coast Railroad, ceased operations in 2018.

National Salvage and Services Corp. is doing the work, which as of press time had progressed nearly to the county line.

Kovalchick Corp., of Pennsylvania, is purchasing some of the rails, said Spencer Murray, of Canonie Atlantic, the company that owns the railroad, during the Feb. 1 ANTDC meeting in Melfa.

Delmarva Central Railroad, the company leasing the tracks from Hallwood to Pocomoke City, Md., has an arrangement with the salvage company to ship some rails north to Kolvalchick, according to Murray.

Additionally, some of the signals and rails have been purchased by DCR, Murray said.

Mark Rosner of DCR reported the company plans to pay Canonie the outstanding balance of $16,593 owed for rails previously purchased and $8,475 for signaling equipment, according to a report given during the Canonie Atlantic Co. meeting, which immediately followed the ANTDC meeting.

Members of the Eastern Shore Rail to Trail Working Group also reported on recent activities during the Canonie meeting.

Ashley Mills said the group is working to create a website.

George Mapp said the Facebook group, Friends of the Eastern Shore Rail Trail, grew from 540 members last month to 860 currently.

“The working group has done a good job of getting all their friends to join up,” Mapp said.
Mills and Anne Doyle, Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission planning director, are gathering information needed to submit pre-applications for SMART SCALE, the Virginia highway department process by which transportation projects are ranked for funding.

Doyle said public outreach is critical for the project and for the application process.

The plan is to submit four SMART SCALE applications — three for segments of the rail trail and one for the entire trail, she said.

As part of the application process, evidence of public outreach must be documented, Doyle said, adding, “We need to be thinking about who we’re going to reach out to and when we do it. … We need residents’ feedback so that we can put that into the planning and the design work that goes into the trail.”

“Where we need your help — the commission’s help — is to help sponsor those public engagement sessions, so that we do get valuable feedback from residents,” Doyle said, addressing ANTDC members.

Murray noted the Virginia Department of Transportation previously conducted a feasibility study for the rail trail.

“The foundation probably will have a lot to do with what’s called final design,” he said.
That final design “will have to involve all of the concerns that you are speaking to and the ones that Mr. Bennett has spoken to and … we will consider farmers, obviously,” Murray said, noting Steve Sturgis represents farmers on the foundation board of directors.

“We have representation from The Nature Conservancy. We’ve got a number of avenues and we are trying to be as collaborative as we possibly can,” Murray said, adding that in the trail’s final design, “We have to consider residences, businesses, and towns that are adjacent to or close to the trail. For a hundred years, they’ve had an operating freight and passenger operation, but it’s all changed now. It’s changing from that environment to a multi-use trail.”

Murray noted the trail will be for nonmotorized uses only, “so we do not have to be concerned about dirt bikes and four-wheelers and so forth going in front of our residents.”

Wolff said the foundation is “just getting going,” but said its members will want “all the input we can get” from the working group and others once some logistics are worked out.

The foundation plans to hire an executive director, among other actions.

Among items the foundation needs to address are following up on securing county, state, and federal funding for the trail; opening a bank account; creating policies regarding trail use before, during, and after construction; assigning a board member to be responsible for a website and social media presence; assigning a board member to coordinate public relations; creating a subcommittee for the executive director search; and coordinating with Canonie Atlantic for signage on the trail, according to a report given by Outland.

Outland and Murray updated attendees at the Canonie meeting about several railroad-related items, including funding for the rail trail and the status of the Cape Charles railyard.

The Eastern Shore Rail Trail was included in former Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget of $207 million for new trails around Virginia, according to Outland.

The General Assembly is discussing how and how much of the funds will be allocated, he said.

“Obviously, we would like to see the Eastern Shore get as much of it as possible,” Murray said.

Murray and Outland were scheduled to present information about the rail trail to legislative members of the Virginia Outdoor Caucus on Feb. 3.

Cardno, an environmental services company, is in the process of creating a formal remediation action plan for the rail yard. The plan must be submitted to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for approval, according to Outland.

National Salvage and Services Corp. and Canonie have discussed with DEQ a plan to grind the removed railroad ties at the former T&W Block plant site on Canonie’s property in Cape Charles. The company is in the process of determining what permits are required.

Around 9,500 tons of ties are being removed and must be disposed of.

The ground material will be loaded onto barges in Cape Charles and removed, according to Outland.

In additional information about the Cape Charles rail yard, Canonie is still pursuing its objective to gain title insurance on Canonie property in Cape Charles.

Company attorneys have completed detailed research into what sections do and do not fall under “the potential cloud of reversion,” according to Outland’s report.

“We believe, based on their research, that the law is very solidly on Canonie’s side,” Outland said.

Murray said the original deed goes back to the 1880s.

“So I just want to make it clear to everybody, if you think we’re not moving as fast as we can, we’re pulling on a 100-some year old piece of string,” he said, adding, “The good news is … we’ve found that some of the parcels we thought had reverter clauses in it do not.

However, the attorneys found three new deeds that we’ve got to research and go through to be a little bit more specific support.

“Obviously, it’s a work in progress,” he said, predicting that by the first of May, “We’ll be in a position to take some action on it.”

The next step once Canonie obtains clear title will be to get title insurance for the entire parcel.

“And then, basically, this board is going to have to decide what it wants to do beyond that,” Murray said.

In an additional update, Outland said Canonie continues to work with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District to iron out final details of an agreement for HRSD to install a sewer line along the railroad right-of-way.

The company installing the sewer line for HRSD has met with a representative from the salvage company removing the rails and ties to discuss how the two companies will operate alongside each other if their respective work overlaps, Outland said.

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