We all need to work on railroad together

Published 1:10 am Sunday, June 13, 2010

Could the recent reaction to the future of the lone rail line leading into Natchez indicate a deeper concern looming just down the tracks?

For years, critics have blamed our area’s economic woes on fictitious, even ludicrous, notions created in the minds of those who simply don’t want to face the truth.

It’s easy to falsely blame the garden clubs or the “hysterical” society or even a few select wealthy members of society for all of the problems in our small corner of the world.

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Say such nonsense loudly and with a little conviction and you’ll almost certainly hear a few “amens” from the back of a crowded room.

But the shocker is Natchez and Adams County’s problems cannot be laid at the feet of any of these groups. Instead, they’re all at the feet of the voters.

Yes, you and I are to blame.

We’re the ones who have elected officials who simply will not work together.

Instead, everyone seems to want to work apart, so that each group can take credit if something good happens.

We need to be a whole lot less concerned over credit and a whole lot more concerned over working together to cause action to occur.

Tupelo, Hattiesburg and other areas of the state considered to be economically successful, weren’t just lucky, they had leaders who worked together and who rallied the whole community behind selected projects.

It seems, at the moment at least, we do just the opposite.

The railroad saga is a great case in point.

One year ago, a company with close ties to a railroad salvage company bought the rail line leading from Natchez to Brookhaven.

Recently it occurred to locals that the new owners might be intent on simply scrapping the line, cutting off a vital transportation mode to our community.

Now, everyone is starting to mobilize in an effort to “do something” to save the railroad.

On the surface, that’s a great thing.

Only by joining forces can we even dream about possibly saving the rail line.

Instead, our actions resemble a Keystone Kops routine.

First, we learned that the mayor and the now former EDA board chairman met privately with the railroad company. County supervisors and members of the new economic development authority, Natchez Inc., apparently learned about this meeting in the newspaper.

Natchez Inc. — which has a clear and massive mandate from the business community through significant, grass roots support — calls a meeting that includes approximately 35 “officials” from Adams County, Franklin County and Concordia Parish.

Of course, no one bothered to inform the public about this meeting. However, it was clear — at least to those with an invitation — that Natchez Inc. was leading the effort to spearhead the railroad resurrection, right?

Not so fast.

County supervisors come out a few days later and say publicly that they would lead the effort and urged others to join their effort.

Weeks after launching a new economic development entity, hoping for a fresh, new start, based on cooperation, city and county leaders already appear to be poorly communicating and stepping on each other’s toes.

For our economic development efforts to be effective, city and county leaders MUST let go of the reins and allow Natchez Inc. to take the lead.

And Natchez Inc. must do a better job of communicating its work to all community stakeholders and it must keep its doors open, particularly on such public projects.

If we don’t stop blaming others and start working together, the tiny light we see at the end of the tunnel may wind up being the light of the last train headed out of Natchez.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.