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Hampton council derides rail stop

By Michael Davis

The Hampton City Council does not want a commuter rail stop in the city - or at least some members don't.

After about 20 minutes of discussion that turned bitter at times, the council adopted a resolution by a 3-2 vote in non-support of the commuter rail proposal slated for the city. The stop would be part of an extension of the proposed Atlanta to Lovejoy rail line.

The council has been known to be split over the proposal's merits, but until Tuesday, had not taken a formal position. Councilman Arley Lowe, who proposed the resolution, said it was necessary to get his side's position down on paper because Mayor Hugh Lewis, who did not vote Tuesday, had recently signed a proclamation of support for the rail, along with the county's three other mayors, that was delivered to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has not yet decided whether to establish the Lovejoy to Atlanta line, which would wind through Clayton County along the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. Longer-range plans call for the service to extend to Griffin, through Hampton, and later to Macon. Several members of the DOT board have expressed to the media concerns over the proposal, which would cost more than $100 million to get off the ground.

Opponents have questioned whether the rail would be too expensive for local governments to subsidize.

Clayton County leaders have agreed, at least in principle, to make up any shortfall in the line's operation after the expiration of start-up money.

Members of the Henry County commission have declined to wade into the battle.

DOT board member Dana Lemon, who lives in McDonough and represents the 13th U.S. Congressional District on the board, said the DOT's intermodal committee, which is overseeing the project, is meeting next week and could discuss the project.

"The decision will not be based on Hampton's [resolution]," she said Wednesday.

Lemon witnessed Hampton leaders' heated debate Tuesday over the commuter rail - not the only issue to drive a wedge between council members - and offered to facilitate informational meetings about the proposal, which she has done in the past.

"It was very interesting - that whole experience," she said of the council's charged debate.

At times, members, before a capacity crowd at city hall, ridiculed one another, trading jabs under their breath.

"It's not my responsibility that he's going bald," Councilman Paul Jones, an opponent of the rail, said in reference to Bobby Jacobs Jr., who supports it. The remark came after an apparent remark by Jacobs about Jones' long ponytail.