City to pursue grant for riverboat dock at Roth Hill

Published 1:25 am Saturday, September 30, 2017


NATCHEZ — The city is pursuing grant funding to help construct a new riverboat dock at the foot of Roth Hill.

Aldermen Tuesday heard from Community Development Director James Johnston, who asked the board to allow the application preparation process to continue. Johnston made the request with the understanding he would return before the board with an update Oct. 10, when a final decision will be made regarding the grant application.

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Johnston said the dual dock would accommodate increased boat traffic along the Mississippi River and allow Roth Hill to permanently dock one passenger vessel.

Johnston said a permanently docked vessel would also elicit job creation opportunities.

The city is filing an application as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant program. The program aims to fund innovative infrastructure projects in communities.

Members of engineering company Volkert Inc. presented the board of aldermen with a concept sketch of what the dock could look like, using the American Queen steamboat and a Viking River Cruise boat to demonstrate the dock’s proposed capabilities.

Johnston said Volkert agreed to help the city prepare the application — due by Oct. 16 — at no cost.

Volkert Vice President Mark McConnell and Assistant Vice President and Marketing Director Jay Dickson attended the meeting to explain the concept and application process.

Dickson said the proposed structure would include two separate docking facilities, one of which would handle a permanently docked boat.

The preliminary estimated total cost of the project is approximately $13.5 million.

Dickson said the program is competitive and although matching funds are not required for application, he said a 20-percent match (approximately $2.7 million for this project) is “strongly encouraged” in order for communities to compete for the grant.

In case the city is not successful in acquiring TIGER money, Dickson said, Volkert is also exploring other avenues in order to accomplish the dock project.

“There will be other federal infrastructure programs that I believe … this fits the mold really well for,” Dickson said.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier asked if the port could accommodate any more than just the two large cruise vessels in case of an emergency.

Dickson said part of the pitch in the TIGER application would note Natchez is an evacuation area during hurricane or other emergency situations. Dickson also said Volkert would make sure the port could accommodate vessels in those situations.

Frazier asked a few more technical questions, including whether the dock would include gas and fuel hookup.

Dickson said the issue had not been discussed but could be explored.

“If we’re going to spend that kind of money, I want to make sure the county and city will be able to get the best out of it,” Frazier said.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis asked if the high water or heavy currents could pose any safety threat to those on the dock.

Dickson said the dock — which he said would be able to adjust vertically to handle different water levels, but not horizontally — would be “totally secured and safe.”

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard asked if the city would incur any fees should an application fail, to which Dickson said, “No.”

“If it’s not funded, then it’s just not funded. We’ll move on to the next funding source and try to figure out a way to get funding,” Dickson said.

Johnston did not request any action from the board and said he would return with an update at the next regularly scheduled aldermen meeting, the morning of Oct. 10.