Board talks water, ramps and recreation

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NATCHEZ — The flood, the Americans with Disabilities Act and progress on a new recreation complex for Natchez were part of the discussion at a Natchez Board of Aldermen work session Monday.

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton and City Engineer David Gardner said they have been in constant communication about the flood — its waters lapping the bottom of Silver Street and climbing the ramp at the Isle of Capri Casino.

Traffic on the street has been limited to restaurant and bar patrons.

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“We are trying to keep Silver Street open,” Gardner said. “We don’t want to hurt business, but we might have to shut off traffic.”

Options for shuttling patrons to businesses Under-the-Hill were kicked around, but the board did not make a decision to close the street to traffic entirely.

“What works today might not work two days from now,” Gardner said.

Gardner said he is still awaiting a presidential disaster declaration, which will pay for a generator to feed power to the wastewater treatment plant in a worst-case scenario.

The generator would cost $150 an hour, and Gardner said he will wait for a declaration so FEMA can cover the cost.

Middleton said Gov. Haley Barbour called Tuesday to check on the City of Natchez.

“I told him I felt like we have things under control,” Middleton said. “His concern is for the safety of the people here.”

Middleton said an evacuation plan has been developed, which for the moment affects 12 people.

The mayor added that the city has provided space for equipment from Concordia Parish, and has provided a place for Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland’s office to temporarily relocate.

In other businesses, the City of Natchez received a federal mandate, insisting compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring Natchez to instate an ADA coordinator, develop a written ADA policy statement and complaint procedure, install ramps on sidewalks — and provide sidewalks in some cases.

“We have to develop a plan to place ramps in a manner so folks in wheelchairs can navigate from point A to point B,” Gardner said.

Gardner said Natchez is disability accessible downtown, but not in the outskirts of the city.

A plan to implement the mandate must be submitted to the ADA by Dec. 31, 2011, or federal funds will be withheld, including MDOT funds.

Gardner said waivers can be provided in the historic areas of town.

“Our first step will be to evaluate our deficiencies,” Gardner said. “We will evaluate those deficiencies and come up with a plan. It’s going to be costly, but it is a mandate.”

Gardner said sidewalks will need to be expanded from four feet to five feet and have the proper slope.

Alderman Tony Fields said it will be a challenge.

“But we do want everything to be accessible,” he said.

Natchez-Adams Recreation Commissioner Tate Hobdy was present at the meeting to ask the aldermen the status of the city’s plans for a recreation complex.

“If I can use a pun, the ball is in your court,” Hobdy said. “We can’t do much until you, the board of supervisors and the Natchez-Adams School Board, move forward. Things like this can become stagnant if they sit on the back burner.”

Hobdy said he believes the people who voted for the new complex want to see it move forward.

Fields said the complex will eventually be paid off, but the boards still need to consider how to maintain it.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis suggested the recreation commission setup a long-range budget that includes maintenance and operation costs to be reviewed in the future.

Two executive sessions were conducted for the purposes of industrial development and economic development.

In other business:

  • A motion to adjudicate lots that have not been mowed was passed by the board.
  • Natchez Senior Citizen Multipurpose Center Executive Director Sabrena Bartley announced that May is Older Americans Month, and a few activities were planned to highlight elderly in the community. A special service at Pilgrim Baptist Church is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 19 She said the service is short, and intended to be a good time of fellowship for seniors.

A Retired Seniors Volunteer Program recognition event will be at noon May 20 at the senior center for all seniors who volunteer in the community.

Two new trolleys and a 44-passenger bus have been paid for by the MDOT, and added to the city’s inventory. A ribbon cutting for the new vehicles will be 11 a.m. on May 23 at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center. Free trolley and bus rides will take people to sites all over town the weekend of May 28.

  • Gerald Garrett, a vehicle operator for the Natchez Transit Department, was recognized for his outstanding performance in a statewide competition among safest vehicle operators. Garrett placed second in the state and received a trophy and a cash prize.

“He is never late for work,” Bartley said, who also serves as executive director of the Natchez Transit System. “He enjoys his job.”

  • The board passed a motion that named Meg Freeman of the engineering department as liaison to MEMA and FEMA for the City of Natchez.
  • Alderman James “Ricky” Gray announced the police department and fire department are hiring probationary officers and firefighters. The closing date to apply at the police department is May 16. The closing date to apply at the fire department is May 20.
  • Alderman Dan Dillard asked that the Natchez Fire Department ask Adams County Fire to cover costs of running fire trucks outside of the city limits.