July 23, 2014 10:15:12 AM
Efforts to convert land west of the Tombigbee River on The Island into a man-made beach and park will be delayed after the city's request for grant funding was not approved.
In May, city officials unveiled a site design plan for a 5-acre parcel it owns including a beach front, sloped concrete sidewalk, stairs and a boardwalk. Columbus councilmen designated the property, which would be known as River Island Park, as a Land and Water Conservation Fund site to make it eligible for grant funding from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. They also authorized city planner and grant administrator Christina Berry to apply for $61,450 in funding from MDWFP for the project, which had an estimated $122,900 price tag.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund funding cycle, however, falls under federal and not state control. MDWFP reviews applications and sends a selection of them to be considered by the National Park Service for funding based on how much money is available. Of 25 proposals statewide submitted to MDWFP, 10, including Columbus' application, were not passed on to the National Park Service. Requests totaling $1.4 million were received.
MDWFP grant administrator Jean Caraway said MDWFP, which has provided funding for past Columbus projects including the Riverwalk, did not send Columbus' application to the federal level for review because the request was for funding that would provide access to the site but no recreational element.
Apparently, the beach itself is not considered a recreational element.
Since this was the first LWCF cycle that has been open since 2005 due to budget cuts at the national level, consideration was narrowed down to applications where a recreational element was sought, Caraway said.
Berry said she'll work with MDWFP and other agencies on future grant applications to make them more competitive when they're submitted. MDWFP's notice is a small setback for the project, she added, but whether River Island Park will be a reality is not a matter of if, but when.
"You have to get a real feel for what they're looking for," Berry said. "I think we submitted a great application. Apparently, there were just some that were more competitive than ours. We'll definitely look at this opportunity next year. I'll see where we could have been more competitive and also look for other grant opportunities to assist the city in its Island redevelopment efforts."
The beach concept was designed to make property surrounding the city-owned land more appealing to a private developer pursuing a commercial or residential development, Berry told councilmen in May.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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