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Natchez to lease riverfront property to Viking USA

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez has agreed to lease city-owned lands on the Mississippi River to Viking USA for a new docking facility that could be one of many stops on Viking’s Mississippi River cruises.

Natchez City Attorney Bob Latham said the city could sign an official lease with Viking after three or more months as the cruise line completes preliminary work for building the dock.

Natchez could be ready to receive Viking vessels at a new docking facility in 2021, Latham said.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted unanimously during an aldermen meeting held via teleconference last week for Mayor Darryl Grennell and Latham to sign an agreement to lease land on the water’s edge near the former Isle of Capri.

Latham said the agreement would set the parameters for the city to move forward with a lease at a later date.

The agreement is similar to one the aldermen voted for last year but moves the proposed docking facility further south from its originally intended location on the Ferry Street landing, Latham said.

“This facility would give the city a third docking location,” Latham said, adding the newly proposed location wouldn’t interfere with American Cruise Lines’ vessels.

In a future lease agreement Viking could pay the city $2 per passenger aboard its vessels as would any other vessel that uses the new docking facility, Latham said, adding Viking’s ships can hold somewhere between 300 and 400 passengers.

Natchez National Historical Park Director Kathleen Bond said the strip of land for the proposed dock, called “Little Mexico,” holds archaeological significance because it was once part of the French Colonial settlement at Fort Rosalie and said that the city may need approval from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History before allowing Viking to build a new dock.

“Because Little Mexico is included in a national register … I imagine there would have to be some archaeological approval of plans and oversight, especially if there is any federal grant money involved,” Bond said. “The site has already been declared to have nationally significant archaeological resources, I just want to be sure they are protected and I hope that someday it becomes part of the park so that it could be developed for enjoyment by all of the public.”

Latham said he didn’t believe the new dock would interfere with any archaeological resources at the site.

“The dock would be out in the water with a long ramp and very little infrastructure on land, Latham said. “I don’t think it would impede any archaeological study.”

Bond said when a parking lot had been built at the site for the Isle of Capri, no digging on the site was allowed and levels of dirt and concrete were meant to preserve the land underneath.

“Once an archaeological site is disturbed then the ability to get information out of it is lost and they’re very fragile,” Bond said. “We are not able to control the erosion at the top of Fort Rosalie, so I’m just trying to protect what resources we can.”