Natchez leaders OK dock grant application

Published 12:03 am Saturday, October 14, 2017

NATCHEZ — Natchez aldermen approved the submittal of an application for a federal grant to construct an approximately $13.5 million dock at the foot of Roth Hill.

Volkert, Inc. Vice President Mark McConnell and Natchez Community Development Director James Johnston spoke before the board at Tuesday’s regular aldermen meeting about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER Discretionary Grant program.

The application is due by 5 p.m. Monday.

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Johnston said the TIGER funds would cover approximately $11.2 million of the costs to build the dock.

Johnston said the city is working to identify the remaining, matching funds for the project, which would consist of approximately $2.3 million. The budget listed $1.85 million of that total coming from federal or state funds and $500,000 from local groups.

Johnston also said the city would not need funds fully committed and in place until Sept. 30 2020.

Responding to a question from Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, McConnell said engineers believe the dock would have the capability to support up to three passenger riverboats as well as recreational vessels. Volkert had last presented a concept that showed the dock handling two large cruise vessels at the Sept. 26 meeting

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier asked if Volkert verified the dock could be used during emergency situations, which McConnell and Johnston both affirmed.

“That is one of our selling points,” Johnston said.

Eventually, the focus shifted back to funding, specifically the $500,000 of local funds.

Johnston reminded the aldermen the city has until 2020 to come up with that amount and that part of those funds could come from local agencies other than the city.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said the city must be willing dedicate some of its own funds for the project.

“The reality is not until 2020,” Grennell said. “We’re going to all these agencies asking for money — we’ve got to put some skin in the game.”

Matching funds are not required to apply for the TIGER grant, but Johnston has said they are highly encouraged to remain competitive.

Arceneaux-Mathis discussed the idea of earmarking money over the next few years from the city’s casino lease fund to begin saving for the project. Magnolia Bluffs Casino leases its space on Roth Hill Road for $1,000,000 a year or more, depending on the casino’s revenue for a given year.

Arceneaux-Mathis said the city could earmark $25,000 or $35,000 from the fund leading up to 2020 to use towards the dock’s matching funds, though those figures were merely used to illustrate the concept.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith said she also was thinking along those lines.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard asked if the city would incur any fees during the application process should the city not receive the grant, and Johnston assured him that would not happen.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier asked if the area had any historical significance that would require extra steps to approve construction of the dock.

Johnston said the city would likely go through a Section 106 review, part of the National Historic Preservation Act that requires agencies to take into account the effects on historic properties.