City seeks county’s help with TIGER grant

Published 11:36 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2017


NATCHEZ — City Attorney Robert Latham met with county supervisors Tuesday to discuss the county becoming the sponsor of the $10.7 million federal grant aimed at making improvements to the lone rail line into the county.

In July 2016, the city received word it had been awarded an approximately $10.7 million grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER Discretionary Grant program. The city partnered with Natchez Railway Inc., which owns the approximately 60-mile stretch of rail between the Natchez-Adams County Port and connecting rail lines in Brookhaven.Natchez Railway is expected to provide approximately $3.6 million in unrequired match funds for the project, bringing total repairs and improvements to the railway to approximately $14.3 million.

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Latham said studies have been completed or are winding down and an agreement needs to be implemented for the project to move forward. City leaders, however, are concerned about potential language in the agreement that could require the city to take on maintenance responsibilities for the rail line, Latham said.

Latham said only a small portion of the railroad is in the city.

“My idea, maybe the county would be willing to step in since the project primarily benefits industrial development at the port,” Latham said. “It seems to be a better fit for the county.”

Latham said in the agreement, Natchez Railway is responsible for maintenance of the rail line. Latham said if something happened to the railway company, the maintenance would fall on the sponsor of the grant. The maintenance agreement is for 20 years.

Adams County Board Attorney Scott Slover asked Latham if the city would let the grant lapse if the county did not agree to step up as sponsor. Latham would not answer definitively, but said letting the grant lapse is a possibility.

The TIGER grant was applied and lobbied for during Mayor Butch Brown’s administration, but notice of funding being awarded was not received until Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell and several new aldermen were in office.

Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus said the rail line needs the upgrades so Natchez Railway can carry heavier loads from Natchez.

“When the train is not at its max load from here to Brookhaven, (Natchez Railway) are losing money not just to there, but the other 1,000 miles it goes,” he said.

Supervisor Ricky Gray said he wondered why the county would take on the sponsorship.

“We are not in the taking over business,” Gray said. “We are in the starting and finishing business.”

County Administrator Joe Murray said he was concerned changing sponsorship on the grant could potentially kill the project.

When the grant was funded last year, Community Development Director James Johnston told the board 2016 was likely the last round of TIGER grant funding.

Supervisors said they needed more information before making a decision. Lazarus suggested Latham add the TIGER grant topic to a joint meeting between the city and the county already set for Thursday.

The joint meeting is scheduled for 3 pm. Thursday at city chambers. The two boards initially planned to meet about the consolidated E911 and emergency response dispatch agreement.