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Officials predict success with D.C. trip

Brookhaven and Lincoln County officials hope they hit thejackpot last week following a trip to Washington to seek federalfunding help for two local projects.

Members of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Economic DevelopmentAlliance and engineer Carl Ray Furr visited with members of thestate’s congressional delegation to discuss funds for a newbusiness park as well as lighting for the Brookway Boulevard exitoff Interstate 55. The local delegation met in person with U.S.Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott and Third District U.S. Rep. ChipPickering and their staffs during the three-day trip.

“We batted a thousand,” alliance member and Chancery ClerkTillmon Bishop said Friday as the delegation returned toMississippi.

During the visit, officials asked for total of approximately$6.5 million for the two projects. Of that amount, $6 million isbeing sought for business park-related water, sewer and roadimprovements.

“It’s the next step in our moving forward in the development ofthe business park,” said Anthony Bell, chairman of the IndustrialDevelopment Foundation.

Also sought was $470,000 for cluster lighting at Exit 40 onInterstate 55.

“Each one of our alliance members had a part in the requests,”Bishop said.

Bobby J. Watts, president of the Lincoln County Board ofSupervisors, said city, county and chamber leaders have worked wellon the project.

“We pray it will go on from now on,” Watts said. “We’re allproud of what’s happening with this thing.”

While there were no funding commitments, officials were hopingto know something in a few months.

“It’s probably going to be January before we know how successfulwe were,” Bishop said.

Congress’ current focus is on fiscal year 2006. Any fundingapproved for the business park or lighting likely would not beavailable for some time.

“It would be a year from now before we get money for that,” saidCity Clerk Mike Jinks, chairman of the alliance.

Officials hope the latest journey will be another in string ofsuccesses for Brookhaven and Lincoln County.

“It’s always somewhat of a gamble going up there,” Bishop said.”We have been told by them – and from our past experiences going upthere – that our chances of getting funded are greatly enhanced bymeeting face to face with the people who have the authority to doit.”

Although much government attention is being focused on recoveryfrom Hurricane Katrina, business park and lighting projectsrequests were not scaled back, Bishop said. Officials havementioned the importance of getting the park up and running toaccommodate businesses possibly looking to relocate after thestorm.

“We told them how we need to move as quickly as possible to getinfrastructure for the park,” Jinks said.

In another storm-related matter, Bishop said congressionalofficials asked questions about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineerscleanup activities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. From a countystandpoint, Bishop said, the Corps acted professionally but wasslow in debris removal.

Friday is the last day for FEMA to fully fund debris removalwork, with local governments having to cover 25 percent of thecosts after that date. Bishop said there were indications duringthe discussion the 60-day window for full funding could be extendedfor another 90 days.

“They’ll probably deal with that next week,” Bishop said.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfieldsaid the spirit of cooperation between the city, county andbusiness community was unprecedented for the trip.

“Everybody came away from the meeting feeling energized andpositive,” Brumfield said. “It’ll take some time, but the park willcome to fruition. We’re on the right track.”

Bishop agreed.

“I feel very confident that we’re going to get a positiveresponse out of it,” Bishop said. “We’ll just have to wait andsee.”

Bell said the unified front aids congressmen in their efforts tosecure funding for local projects like the business park.

“This makes their jobs a lot easier when they go back and lookat how to appropriate fund to help communities,” Bell said.