County joins rail authority

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 8, 2011

NATCHEZ — Adams County is nearly fully armed to secure the future of the 66-mile railroad from Natchez to Brookhaven.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors voted to create and join the Southwest Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority at their meeting Monday.

The resolution to create and join the authority was unanimously adopted by the board after a public hearing on the matter took place.

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

The railroad authority is intended to include Adams, Franklin and Lincoln counties, which are the counties through which the railroad runs.

Board members of Natchez Inc. appeared at the meeting to show support for the resolution, as well.

Natchez Inc. Chairwoman Sue Stedman said the purpose of the authority is to act as a stop-gap measure in case the current owner wants to abandon the railroad.

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.

Stedman said the authority also has the power, without purchasing the railroad, to secure federal funds “for either very low or no interest rates” for the railroad’s maintenance that private companies would be much less likely to obtain.

Natchez attorney Walter Brown, who spoke about the railroad authority at Monday’s meeting, said after the meeting Franklin County will have its public hearing March 21.

Brown said since much of the railroad’s maintenance involves bridges or crossings, the authority could obtain funds to work on those types of public property maintenance.

Stedman said a short line operator would operate the railroad in the event the authority buys it to save the railroad from abandonment.

“We’re simply concerned (abandonment) could happen, but we’re hopeful it does not,” Stedman said. “At this point it is purely precautionary.”

Stedman said losing the railway could cut economic prospects in half.

Brown said even prospective industries that do not use railroads might still desire the option of railroad transportation.

Brown said once the other counties adopt resolutions to join the authority, the Mississippi Secretary of State must certify the authority and then county boards can begin appointing members and creating bylaws.

“We talk about regionalism, but this is regionalism at its best,” Brown said.

Brown said it might take approximately 45 days until the authority is officially certified.

The following governments and entities have issued resolutions supporting the creation of the Southwest Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority.

Adams County Board of Supervisors, City of Natchez, Amite County Board of Supervisors, Town of Gloster, Claiborne County Board of Supervisors, City of Port Gibson, Franklin County Board of Supervisors, City of Meadville, Town of Roxie, Lincoln County Board of Supervisors, City of Brookhaven, Wilkinson County Board of Supervisors, Concordia Parish Police Jury, City of Vidalia, Concordia Economic and Industrial Development District, Natchez Inc., Mississippi Public Service Southern District Commissioner Leonard L. Bentz, Mississippi Public Service Central District Commissioner Lynn Posey.