‘We want what is best for the whole parish,’ Railroad proposal receives pushback

Published 10:43 am Tuesday, February 15, 2022

VIDALIA — A proposed commercial railroad development introduced in December has received some pushback from Concordia Parish residents, according to the police jury during their meeting on Monday.

The Concordia Parish Police Jury has been asked to adopt a new ordinance creating the Northeast Louisiana Railroad Development District along with East Carroll, Madison and Tensas parishes.

The ordinance would establish a nine-member commission with the police juries in each parish each appointing two members independently and the last member appointed jointly by all four parishes.

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Its purpose would be to “promote and encourage the development of rail service running between the parishes,” according to the proposed ordinance presented by Bryant Killen, Deputy Director of the Lake Providence Port Commission.

While introducing it in December, Killen said their goal is to follow the old Missouri Pacific rail bed into Ferriday, where a new line would begin leading to Vidalia and possibly cross the Mississippi River into Natchez. New construction in Ferriday, including the new Trinity Medical Center, prevents the line from following its original path.

A public hearing was held Monday regarding the proposed railroad ordinance. After the hearing,  jury member Joseph Parker Sr. moved to table considering whether to adopt it until the next board meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 28.

The jury secretary and treasurer Sandi Burley said one of the concerns is that, per the ordinance, the new development district would be exempt from taxes. The Board of Commissioners created under the railroad ordinance could also levy ad valorem taxes not exceeding five mills each year.

Burley said residents had called her concerning a letter of support the police jury signed granting Syrah Technology in Vidalia a 10-year extension of an 80 percent tax break during the industry’s planned expansion project.

“We give up millages and I don’t think we get sales tax off of Syrah. I think that goes directly to Vidalia and to Concordia Parish School District and I think that is what some people have heartburn about,” Burley said.

However, Killen said the railway could provide other economic development opportunities in the parish.

Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said the railroad commission would be in the best interest of the entire parish—not just Vidalia.

“The fact that we have anyone in the parish that has heartburn over any of our successes in Vidalia, Clayton, Ferriday, Monterey or wherever, shame on them,” he said. “We are part of the parish just as much as Ferriday, Clayton or anybody else. … Any citizen that feels that way, shame on you. We want what is best for the whole parish.”

Jury member Willie Yearby said there had been a time that Vidalia had lost an industrial prospect to Tallulah, Louisiana, simply because they did not have a rail system.

“I think that is sad,” Yearby said.

Parker also voiced his support of the project before he made the motion to table voting on it.

“It was sad years ago when local government couldn’t come to terms with the railroad while it was already established,” Parker said. “That is what is sad. That was before any of our time.”