Railroad bill steams through legislature

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NATCHEZ — A senate bill allowing Adams County to create a regional rail authority sailed through the Mississippi Senate with ease and was passed by the House unanimously on Friday.

Once Gov. Haley Barbour signs Senate Bill 2335, the local-private legislation will set in place a measure needed in the event that the 66-mile railroad from Natchez to Brookhaven is abandoned by its owners.

The railroad authority will be able to own the railroad and its assets and levy fees associated with the rail, Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said.

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The legislation will be used only as a backup plan, Russ said.

The rail line is owned by Natchez Railway, whose president has maintained the company has no intentions of abandoning the railroad.

However, many of the Natchez Railway executives also work for the scrapping and supply company A&K Railroad Materials.

The bill allows for the authority be created under short notice to buy the railroad.

Russ said a commitment to providing rail service in Natchez and Adams County is part of Natchez Inc.’s continued plan to improve the city and county’s competitiveness with industrial and business development in the region.

“This legislation and bill to form a regional authority will be something that is a piece of that effort,” Russ said.

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez authored the bill with Sens. Kelvin Butler, D-Magnolia and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven, as co-authors.

Boards of supervisors in Adams, Franklin and Lincoln must hold public hearings on the legislation before it passes on the local level.

Mayor Jake Middleton said he is glad to have the legislation in place but hopes it will be used as a last resort.

“It just depends on whether things fall into place over next few months, and that’s all we can hope for,” Middleton said.

Natchez Inc. singed a contract with the railroad’s former owners to operate the railroad for two years. June will mark the end of the two years.

Middleton said he hopes the current owners will soon encounter an industrial prospect that wants to use the rail.

“But we don’t need to cut the port off from rail, and that’s just a bottom line,” Middleton said.