State has Forks grant deadline, too

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 22, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Even as the deadline for the City of Natchez to use a $200,000 state grant to purchase land at the Forks of the Road runs out, the state faces its own deadlines in using the money, an official of the Department of Archives and History said Friday.

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.

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.

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More than $2,200 in private donations has been raised to match the grant, and project supporters have lobbied the area’s congressional delegation for help in raising more funds, but more than $151,000 is still needed. The deadline for using the grant is Dec. 31, or the city will lose the funds.

Ken P’Pool, director of Archives and History’s Historic Preservation Division, said the department sympathizes with Natchez’s plight but faces severe time constraints of its own.

The Mississippi Legislature issued bonds to pay for this and for the recognition of other African-American heritage sites around the state. One stipulation is that the funds be used before the date the bonds must be paid off &045; December 2003.

&uot;We don’t want to lose this money because the need is so great,&uot; P’Pool said.

&uot;There are several projects throughout the state that are woefully underfunded,&uot; he said. &uot;We need time to reprogram that money, and we need to give these organizations time to (amend) their budgets.&uot;

How much time? About one year, according to P’Pool &045; putting the deadline at the end of this year.

&uot;It’s not that we want to take money about from Natchez,&uot; P’Pool said. &uot;We wish Natchez could have closed this purchase. We’ve tried to give them as much leeway as possible, and we hope they can still work it out. … It’s been a hard decision.&uot;

At the same time, anything is possible, including the possibility that the department’s board could choose at its Jan. 17 meeting to extend deadline even further, P’Pool acknowledged.