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Budget delay puts port projects on hold


Neal Wagner



Possible funding for a pair of projects near the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway may be on hold until the Mississippi Legislature passes a state budget, members of the Lowndes County Port Authority announced during a Wednesday meeting. 


The authority is seeking funding for a rail spur extension project and an industrial site-preparation project near the port.  


Although port officials plan to apply for a Mississippi Department of Transportation multi-modal grant to fund the projects, they will not be able to submit their applications until the Legislature approves a state budget. 


"They (MDOT) normally send us the applications in late March or early April," said Lowndes County Port Director John Hardy. "We haven''t gotten the applications yet because the Legislature hasn''t approved a budget yet." 


Although the state Legislature was scheduled to approve the budget March 27, House-Senate disagreements so far have prevented the bill from being passed. The Legislature May 8 recessed until May 26 in an attempt to allow Legislators time to reach a compromise on the issue. 


The pair of port projects are expected to total about $484,000, though a separate application will be submitted for each, Hardy explained. 


The industrial site-preparation project will involve smoothing out dredge material recently collected from the Tenn-Tom Waterway by the Army Corps of Engineers onto a 19-acre strip of land south of the Baldor Electric facility near the county''s east bank port. 


After the material is leveled throughout the property, port and county officials will attempt to use the land to attract industries to the area. 


"Our basic goal is to make that area usable as an industrial site," said Hardy. "The lowest bidder for that project was Cornerstone Civil out of Tuscaloosa, Ala., with a bid of $124,000. We have either 60 or 90 days to accept that bid, so we have a little bit of flexibility as far as time goes." 


In addition to the industrial-preparation project, port officials also are planning to seek MDOT funding for a rail spur extension project on the west bank of the Tenn-Tom Waterway. 


The first stage of the rail extension, which includes dirt work, studies and other "pre-construction" work, is expected to cost about $360,000, Hardy added. If completed, the rail spur would connect Severstal, Kinder-Morgan and several other businesses to a Kansas City Southern rail line already in place near the Lowndes County Industrial Park. 


"We are going to submit both of these projects to MDOT once we can apply for the grants, and we have to prioritize one project over the other when we do," Hardy said. "In all likelihood, we may not get both of those projects funded, but it is possible. 


"In all likelihood, whatever project we put as our top priority will probably get funded over the other one," Hardy added. 


Because the port authority can not apply for the grants yet, board members tentatively postponed prioritizing the projects until their June board meeting. 


"If we need to make a decision before then, we can just poll the board," Hardy added.




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