A long-discussed plan for a 13-mile rails-to-trails project in South Georgia is stalled.

Albany Rail Trail
Credit: South Georgia Rails to Trails, Inc.

A long-discussed plan for a 13-mile rails-to-trails project in South Georgia is stalled.

The nonprofit South Georgia Rail Trail organization was founded 24 years ago to help create a bikeable, walkable trail between Albany and Sasser similar to those that exist in other cities, like Atlanta’s Beltline.

After acquiring the former rail corridor, the group agreed to give it to the city of Albany in exchange for a contractual promise that Albany would build the trail by May 2020.

But city commissioner Chad Warbington said complete funding for the project never materialized and the city had to spend its money on other priorities.

"A tornado, Hurricane Michael, Hurricane Irma and then, of course, COVID," he said.

Last year, the trail group sued the city for breach of contract.

And now, last week, the city tabled an opportunity to pursue grant funding because of the lawsuit.

"We're just hesitant to move forward because we're being sued by this entity," Warbington said. "[The trail] will provide economic development and tourism dollars for our city and counties but the question is, who pays for it?"

South Georgia Rail Trail attorney Bill Berryman says he’s hopeful that ongoing talks will resume the group’s partnership with the city.

"We're in discussions with the city about having a tolling agreement which would allow the city to dismiss the case without prejudice," Berryman said.

That could allow the grants to flow.

“We truly hope that we’re going to get to a successful resolution of all of our issues and move forward to get this trail built,” Berryman said.

The Albany-Sasser rail trail is envisioned as the "spine" of a larger Flint River trail system that's otherwise on track, according to Spencer Lee, the group's project manager.

"Albany is one of the few cities in the state of Georgia that doesn't have a multi-jurisdictional trail system," Lee said.

Georgia has 34 rail trail projects and 211 miles of rail trails, according to the national Rails to Trails Conservancy.

About half of those projects and miles are in metro Atlanta.