Local leaders return from D.C.

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 27, 2010

VIDALIA — Local leaders went to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby for local and regional projects, and came back with mixed results.

Representatives from Natchez, Vidalia, Ferriday, Clayton and the unincorporated parts of Concordia Parish went to the nation’s capital Monday through Thursday to attend the U.S. 84 El-Camino Corridor 5-State Commission convention.

The commission meets there yearly to lobby congressional leaders for funding for the four-laning of U.S. 84 from Georgia through Texas.

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“As far as U.S. 84 funding is concerned, they told us money is extremely tight, and they don’t know if any money is going to be spent on transportation this year,” Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said.

While there, those representing the area took advantage of the opportunity to work with their congressional delegations to try to find funding and help with other local projects.

Vidalia’s delegation discussed a number of projects with congressional members and their staffs, including the Concordia Parish port project, the new municipal complex, housing and recreation.

“We had some good discussions with our congressional delegation, but just about everyone that we discussed issues with said the money is going to be extremely tight but that they wanted to do what they could to help us,” Copeland said.

“They are going to give us different avenues as far as trying to obtain funding, but it is going to be a drawn out process, and we are going to have to wait and see how the money is going to be on the (funding) bills.”

Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin said that the trip was a productive one for him, and that he was able to come to a tentative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about an old grant project that was stalled and the USDA wanted paid back.

The agreement has cleared the way for the Town of Ferriday to apply for future funding to build a new water plant, McGlothin said.

“They haven’t given me a final say, but we have come to an understanding,” he said. “I will do whatever they tell us to do, but it is a small price to pay to get a new water plant.”

With the agreement, representatives from the USDA gave the town engineer the go-ahead to submit a preliminary engineering report for the new plant and new water meters.

“That is the major start to getting the grant process started,” he said.

Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said the Natchez delegation went to talk about the North Natchez drainage project, the Marblestone Road project and the proposed Natchez-Adams County Recreation Complex.

But the visit actually helped them learn about other opportunities, he said.

“We went to the USDA and we found out a lot of programs they have, programs varying from a possible heating and cooling unit for the library to some potential equipment for public works,” Gardner said.

“We were mainly going up there to find out what funds we could (get) for the Marblestone-West Stiers area, and we found some programs we could apply for, but in the discussions we found out about these other opportunities.”

Those who were in the nation’s capital this week, just after the passage of the contentious health care reform package and during the debate about many of the fixes proposed for it, said the tension was notable.

“In all the years I have been going to Washington, D.C., I have never seen as many groups of people up there,” Copeland said. “I have never seen them, the Republicans and the Democrats, so divisive and separated in all the years I’ve been in office.”

But while the congressional leaders may have bristled against each other, it didn’t really spill over into the meetings locals had with them, Gardner said.

“It was kind of tense up there,” he said. “You could really tell there is friction between the Democrats and the Republicans, but we worked through it and it really didn’t affect our meetings.”