Pickering gets acquainted with officials, area’s needs

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 31, 2003

Community officials’ road concerns and economic developmentassistance needs got Third District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering’sattention Thursday as the congressmen stopped in Brookhaven duringa tour of the new portion of his district.

Pickering met with city and county officials Thursday morningduring the first of several stops in southwest Mississippi. Otherstops included Meadville, Liberty, McComb, Tylertown andMonticello.

Beginning his fourth term in Congress, Pickering said the tourwas a way for him to get to know local officials and the ways hisoffice could help them with their activities. Pickering said he hadspoken with former U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, who used to representthe area until redistricting, about a variety of projects, andPickering pledged support for those.

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“We want to continue those projects and priorities and doeverything we can,” said Pickering, who mentioned that his newcongressional office in Brookhaven is expected to open in a week ortwo.

Chandler Russ, executive vice-president of theBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, said there wereseveral projects in the works or on the horizon in which Pickeringcould be helpful. Russ mentioned county highway projects,infrastructure needs related to a new industrial park, waste waterinfrastructure needs and other city projects.

“I hope at some point we can have a good discussion and movesome of those projects forward,” Russ said.

Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said a small group of supervisorswas planning a trip to Washington in February and hoped to be ableto meet with Pickering. Brookhaven officials have also used tripsto Washington to lobby for city project assistance.

District 2 Supervisor Bobby J. Watts said the county has a hugefarm-to-market road problem.

“They’re worn out, patches on top of patches,” Watts said.

Pickering said this year is time for Congress to authorize a newhighway transportation bill. Unlike in years past, where fundingwas sent to the state level with limited spending directions,Pickering said he hoped to see more funds designated to help localcommunities.

In the highway funding area, Pickering reported progress inboosting the return on federal fuel tax dollars that Mississippisends to Washington. He said the rate had improved from around 72cents under previous highways bills to around 92 cents of everydollar under the most recent bill.

“We want to get every dollar back that we send up there,” saidPickering, pointing out that Mississippi receives about $318-$330million in federal highway funding.

Watts was pleased to hear the congressman’s comments.

“Now, we’re getting somewhere,” Watts said.

Watts and District 3 Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson decriedthe county’s bad bridge conditions. Watts said school buses, whichweigh over 30,000 pounds unloaded, are crossing bridges with 9,000weight limits.

“There’s no need to reroute them because you’re going to getanother (bad bridge) over there,” Watts said.

Russ and Brookhaven Ward 4 Alderman Bob Massengill cited a needfor help with new industrial park plans. A study on a newindustrial park has narrowed potential locations from six to two,and officials are preparing to make final decision on alocation.

Pickering said help could be available through the USDA’s RuralDevelopment in the form of loans or grants. He also mentioned anEconomic Development Initiative under the Department of Housing andUrban Development.

Russ mentioned over $400 million of industrial prospects thatare currently being pursued. However, recruitment efforts arehampered by a lack of available industrial space.

“Our industrial park cannot hold the prospects right now.There’s just not the room,” Russ said.

Pickering touted a regional and federal, state and localpartnership approach to economic development. He said an investmentin Lincoln County has the potential to help Franklin, Lawrence,Amite and other surrounding counties.

Pickering said the southeastern United States is thefastest-growing area of the country. In 30 years, he said, 40percent of the population is expected to be living in theregion.

Mississippi, the congressman said, is positioned to takeadvantage of that population trend. Referring to Highway 84 andInterstate 55, Pickering said Brookhaven and Lincoln County arewell-positioned and officials can work together to produce goodresults.

“I see great promise and potential, but it takes thatpartnership,” Pickering said.