Leaders seek top railroad executives

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NATCHEZ — Local leaders are continuing their effort to save the Natchez railroad.

At Monday’s meeting of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Henry Watts said he would like to meet face-to-face with the owners of Natchez Railway, LLC.

“Let’s get the owners of the rail service in the room with the supervisors, with the (Natchez-Adams County) Chamber of Commerce, with Natchez, Inc., and look them in the face and let them tell us what their plans are,” Watts said.

The Natchez Railway, which is based in Salt Lake City, bought the 66-mile rail line last year with a commitment to keep the line open for another two years. Many local leaders have expressed fear the line will be scrapped once those two years are over.

“Their intention when they bought it was to take it up for scrap,” Watts said. “Is it that now?”

The problem with setting up a meeting so far has been that those trying to save the railroad haven’t had a contact with the top players at the railroad, Chamber of Commerce Director and Natchez, Inc. member Debbie Hudson said.

“That has been the thing, there has never been a name,” she said. “It has always been somebody at the bottom.”

However, Hudson said Natchez Inc. Chair Sue Stedman’s mission was to have a meeting set up by the end of the day.

“First, we need to find out what the contract said, if there is a buyout plan or what our options are,” Hudson said. “When we find out that information, we will try to bring all parties together. This is a fact-finding mission to find out where the heck to begin.”

Supervisor’s President Darryl Grennell said he has recently spoken with the boards of supervisors in the area’s contiguous counties, and they have told him they support the railroad effort.

“We have all of their support in totality to move forward in doing what we can to save this railroad,” he said.

Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter asked if there was any way to grant the railroad a tax exemption for its property, a property Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne said generated approximately $40,000 in taxes yearly.

Board attorney Bobby Cox said extending the railroad contract for two or three years would give an opportunity for the local economic development projects such as Rentech to further develop, and that could convince the company to keep the line open.

“It usually comes down to money,” he said.