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South Georgia Rails to Trails Hits City of Albany with Lawsuit Over Breach of Contract Claims

— August 21, 2020

South Georgia Rails to Trails recently decided to sue the City of Albany over breach of contract claims.

Earlier this week, the South Georgia Rails to Trails, a conservancy group, announced plans to sue the city of Albany for $7 million over breach of contract claims. The suit was filed by the group because it claims the city isn’t holding up their part of the deal when it comes to the construction of a recreational trail on 13.6 miles of a former rail corridor.” The Rails to Trails group has controlled the stretch of land for about 26 years. According to the recent suit, city officials have argued that they’re “under no obligation to put down an asphalt surface on the trail recommended in a Trail Master Plan and that the cost to lay such a surface — estimated now at $7 million — has become too exorbitant, given other more pressing issues it faces.”

Gavel and two hardbound books on wooden table; image by Succo, via
Gavel and two hardbound books on wooden table; image by Succo, via

When commenting on the matter, Albany City Manager Sharon Subadan said:

“I can’t get into specifics because this is pending legal action…But looking at the minutes of (commission meetings at which the agreement was reached), the trail was represented to be a $1 million to $1 million-and-a-half project. Now it’s more like $6 million to $7 million. That’s a lot of heartburn, especially when we’re going through a pandemic…Frankly, the city does not have that kind of money. And I’ve heard some say we earmarked money for trails in our T-SPLOST, but we haven’t collected all of that funding. And the idea that we’re not acting in good faith is just not fair. We’ve been through four presidentially-declared disasters in the last few years and are in the middle of a pandemic.”

Bo Johnson, President of South Georgia Rails to Trails, pushed back and said that as the group looks to the future, “the city can no longer afford to look past amenities like the trail system, of which the Rails to Trails section is a vital part.” He added:

“Yes, I know the city has infrastructure needs. But we also need to change the perception people have of the city. I appreciate the budget the city is working under, but we have to change the perception of Albany being somewhere people want to get out of. I have two daughters and a son who, when they graduated from college, said they had no desire to come back here. Our leaders need to look at the positive impact — health and economic — a trail can have on our city; they need to look at the impact they’ve had on other cities. (Rails to Trails officials) love this city; we want to work with our city officials. We all want to work for the betterment of our community.”

The suit was filed by William C. Berryman, an attorney with the Fortson, Bentley & Griffin law firm representing the conservancy group. He said the “city failed to perform its duty agreed upon in the May 14, 2015 pact the city and SGRT officials signed.” The suit further states “the city agreed to develop the property for public, open space and recreational purposes along the 13.6-mile corridor that run from downtown Albany to Sasser in Terrell County…the city’s default under the agreement damages the property’s trail use status and possible the city’s ownership.”

Under the original agreement made back in 2015, the city paid the group $150,000 for the property, “which it would use to expand its utilities customer base, in exchange for development of a trail along the corridor.” However, now city officials claim they “never signed off on the subsequent Master Plan, and therefore there is no agreement to lay asphalt or any other type of surface on the trail.”

When asked about the matter, Albany City Commissioner Chad Warbington said:

“I wasn’t a part of the city government when this agreement was signed, but I’ve seen several iterations of the Master Plan…But (the city) never agreed to a Master Plan. There have to be budgetary constraints, so until we were given costs of the project, it would have been foolish of us to agree to anything…And what South Georgia Rails to Trails isn’t saying is that we were as close to having this situation worked out as we’ve ever been when I talked with Lee County officials about taking part in the trail project. They were ready to do their part, and we were ready to do our part. And Sasser was ready to come in with their part. We had it figured out. But Rails to Trails stepped in and said they would have no part of it, threatening Lee County with a lawsuit. And by doing so — by saying Lee County couldn’t meet their expectations — they have essentially slowed Lee County’s growth by holding up several transportation projects they have going on.”


South Georgia Rails to Trails lawsuit asks for $7 million from city of Albany

Rails to Trails organization suing the city of Albany

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