Forks of the Road grant deadline approaching

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 18, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Even if the sites cannot be bought by a Dec. 31 grant deadline, the City of Natchez will continue to search for funding for the Forks of the Road project, city officials have said.

&uot;It is my intention to go after other funding source initiatives,&uot; said Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith. &uot;We (city officials) would like to see that happen. Š The drive to raise those funds will continue.&uot;

Concerned citizens and local governments have pushed for the National Park Service to erect an interpretive center on the property at Liberty Road and St. Catherine Street, the site of a 19th-century slave market.

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The state Department of Archives and History awarded Natchez a $200,000 grant to purchase the property. So far, the three landowners have all refused to sell unless all the land is bought.

&uot;Even if one of the landowners would come forward and agree to sell, I think Archives and History would honor that contract&uot; to provide enough of the $200,000 grant to purchase that parcel, said City Attorney Walter Brown.

Proponents of the project have asked the city and county for financial support, and the city has set up an account to receive donations to help raise the more than $153,000 still needed to buy the land.

The final deadline for using the grant, however, is Dec. 31 &045; or the city will lose the funds.

But that does not mean the city cannot go after another Archives and History grant in the future or that federal grants couldn’t become available, Smith noted.

That the current grant will not be extended &uot;is obviously a setback, but the project’s not dead,&uot; Brown said.

&uot;I think the city and county would continue to pursue the same process&uot; even if the state grant runs out, he said.

One option is for the city to return to the State Legislature, asking lawmakers to reauthorize $200,000 in funds for the project. Brown admitted that would be difficult, since the current money hasn’t been spent.

Meanwhile, Gettye Israel, a member of the Friends of the Forks of the Road organization, has sent letters in November to the offices of U.S. Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran and to the office of U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering. Another letter was sent to Lott earlier this month.

As of Tuesday night, the organization had not received replies to those letters, said group President Ser Seshshab Heter-C.M. Boxley.

Representatives of Lot and Cochran’s offices could not be reached in recent days by The Natchez Democrat.

But following his speech at the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting on Monday, Pickering said he will be glad to meet with representatives of the group when he returns to the area in January.