The concept of a multiuse trail along Georgia Power Co.’s electric line route has been revived by the Sandy Springs Conservancy, which aims to have an initial, experimental segment built within five years.

“We’ve sat down with Georgia Power and the city, looking at the feasibility of trails along the right of way,” said Steve Levetan, the parks advocacy group’s board chair. “I’m very comfortable this [pilot segment] is going to happen sooner, rather than later.”

A section of the Georgia Power right of way at the intersection of Roswell and Morgan Falls roads in Sandy Springs. (John Ruch)

The city and the power company say they’re open to the idea and await a solid proposal from the conservancy.

“We met with Ga. Power last year and it is open to conversation,” Mayor Rusty Paul said in a recent Facebook comment. “So, we’re following up and the Conservancy is following through.”

“The company is always open to discussions with valued community partners like [the] Sandy Springs Conservancy,” said Georgia Power spokesperson John Kraft. He added that the company is aware of the group’s trail concept, but not of active talks underway.

The trail concept focuses on Georgia Power’s high-voltage transmission line right of way. It’s a partly cleared swath about 200 to 300 feet wide, dotted with electric line towers, that runs about 10 miles between East Cobb County and Norcross through northern Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. Georgia Power has the right to use the area through easements, but the land itself belongs to the dozens of individual property owners whose back yards it runs through.

In 2011, the city of Dunwoody proposed a similar trail and “greenway” on its section of the right of way. The idea was controversial and was quickly yanked out of the city’s transportation plan. Opponents cited concerns about crime, lower property values, maintenance costs and loss of such existing improvements as a garden.

Bob Mullen, a Dunwoody city spokesperson said that “at present, the city is not still actively exploring a power line greenway.”

But in Sandy Springs, the conservancy has continued eyeing utility rights of way, including those of Georgia Power and the Colonial and Plantation petroleum pipelines. With the conservancy’s advocacy, that right of way strategy, and the Georgia Power trail concept in particular, were included in the city’s recently approved new Comprehensive Plan.

For the past two years, the conservancy also has brought in trail experts for its annual “Thought Leaders” program, an invitation-only dinner followed by a private meeting with city officials. This year’s guest was Ryan Gravel, the urban planner behind Atlanta’s BeltLine, which is being built on old railroad rights of way. Levetan said Gravel gave advice on building community advocacy for similar right of way trails in Sandy Springs.

“We now have our arms around it enough to know it’s doable,” Levetan said of the trail. “We’ve got a lot of people [who] want it to happen. … We know this can not only work, but be an asset to the community … [and] to adjacent homeowners.”

Funding sources and an exact timeline have yet to be determined. Levetan said a conservancy committee is forming and soon will meet with city staff members to identify a possible pilot segment of the trail “that can be moved pretty quickly … certainly within a five-year horizon, hopefully significantly less than that.”

“We will look carefully at a pilot segment where we’re hopefully not dealing with too many property owners,” he added, acknowledging prior controversy.

City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the city intends to create more parks and trails in collaboration with the conservancy.

“This trail idea is one possibility, and we’ve asked the conservancy to take the lead in exploring the idea further,” Kraun said. “It is simply an idea at this stage, nothing beyond that. The conservancy will let us know when and if there is an opportunity to move the idea to concept stage.”

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