Interstate lighting plan dealt setback

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Democratic crackdowns on earmarks for projects such asinterstate lighting and unavailable legislators made cityofficials’ recent trip to Washington a little different than theyhoped and anticipated.

Officials, though, still believe the trip will turn out to havebeen a fruitful and fulfilling venture.

“I think it was very positive because we did get to meet withCongressman Pickering personally as well as his legislativedirector, who if you’re going to meet with a staff member that’swho you want to meet with,” said Ward Five Alderman D.W.Maxwell.

City officials tried to coordinate the trip with the schedulesof Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran and Congressman Pickering,but unexpected business prevented the senators from being able tomeet with the Brookhaven group. Mayor Bob Massengill said they werestill happy to get to meet with the staffs of the two senators.

“You hate to spend the taxpayers’ money on such an expensivetrip to only get to meet with one of the three legislators inperson,” said Massengill. “But we felt like Congressman Pickeringas well as the staff we met with from the senators’ offices werevery positive and receptive, and also very interested in theprojects we took to them.”

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes also made the trip. She saidshe was encouraged by the amount of time they were able to spendwith Pickering especially, but also in the way the three Brookhavenofficials worked as a team.

“The best thing is that we were able to present our case onthese six projects that we felt were very important for the city ofBrookhaven,” said Estes. “We felt we were heard and we presented agood cohesive front.”

For their presentation, Massengill, Estes, and Maxwell eachselected two of the six issues to present to the lawmakers inWashington, thus making sure that each one was able to inputopinions and represent the city. The requests made in Washingtoncentered around the paving of Brookway Boulevard, LinBrook BusinessPark infrastructure needs, cluster lighting at exit 40, soilerosion, a community center and sewage improvements.

One blow to the city, however, was that the shift of power inWashington has directly affected earmarks.

As such, an expected funding earmark for interstate clusterlighting officials have been asking for since 2004 will not takeplace. City officials must now find funding elsewhere.

“Things have changed a lot since the majority has shifted in DC.The climate has changed and that is dramatically evident,” saidEstes. “But I am confident we can be assured that our legislatorsare being as proactive as they can to take care of our people.”

Maxwell said, however, there is a chance that some of theprojects that seem to have hit a brick wall could find new hope inthe next fiscal year.

“Some of those projects may come alive again in this next fiscalyear’s appropriations, they may be top of the list, so to speak,”said Maxwell. “I don’t feel any of the staff members were willingto make a commitment as to any earmarks because they’ve gotten outof hand.

“Everyone is competing for special projects and it’s just asituation that Congress will have to cut back on these.”

Massengill said one way or the other, city officials will notdiscontinue efforts on any of the issues they took to Washingtonsimply based on what seems to be a bump in the road.

“We’ve got to determine what our next approach will be, and whatagency to take some of these issues to, whether it be the USDA, theEPA, HUD – whatever it takes to make these things a reality,” hesaid. “We will take whatever time needs to be taken to be sure thateach of these projects comes to fruition. One thing we are nowassured of is that our congressional delegation wants to help, andthey’re going to help.”

Based upon the climate change in the nation’s capital, citylawmakers feel the water and sewage issues may have the best chanceof receiving direct help. They may have to seek assistanceelsewhere on several of the other issues.

“It’s my opinion that the water and sewer projects may have thebest chance,” said Maxwell at Tuesday night’s board of aldermenmeeting. “I read encouragement in those areas.”

Massengill stressed again the importance of staying in directcontact with the state’s congressional delegation in Washington,saying the city will continue to do what it can.

“More than just talk, it’s now becoming a fact that if we don’tlet our needs be known, we will never receive the things we need,”he said. “I’m glad we went, and it’s important that we went.”

Something that seemed to please and surprise the delegation inWashington was the fact the city and the county have presented thesame projects as a team. Not only that, but the Brookhavencoalition was well-organized and well-prepared.

Estes said at this point it’s a waiting game, but thatBrookhaven will continue the requests.

“The only comment I have is that we can just wait and see, butit’s important to go back and continue to make our needs known inorder to fulfill our commitments to our constituency,” saidEstes.