Supervisors opt in to railroad authority

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lincoln County may have been the caboose by being the last tojoin the Southwest Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority, butjoining the train puts Lincoln County on the same track as itsregional neighbors.

After a public hearing Wednesday morning, the Lincoln County Boardof Supervisors unanimously agreed to join Franklin and Adamscounties in the creation of a railroad authority to protect the66-mile railroad that runs between Brookhaven and Natchez shouldthe current owner decide to abandon it.

“We’re so pleased Lincoln County decided to join the regionalrailroad authority,” said Chandler Russ, executive director ofNatchez, Inc. “Their partnership will continue to be vital in ourforward movement with the authority.”

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Adams County was the first of the three counties that the railroadruns through to join the coalition roughly 45 days ago. FranklinCounty joined nearly a month ago.

With the least amount of track-covered land among the involvedcounties, supervisors decided to vouch for Lincoln County’sestimated 16 miles to show they are willing to work in the bestinterest of the area.

“Throughout the state we promote Southwest Mississippi and it sendsan excellent message we’re in this thing cooperatively with thispart of the state,” said Board President Doug Moak.

The board had been riding the rail on the decision to join theauthority since November. One of the primary concerns on the mindsof supervisors was financial obligation.

“We’re looking for a partnership and a handshake at this point, andnot your checkbook,” Russ said during the public hearing.

However, officials are well aware the money train could leave thestation in the future.

To raise revenue, the railroad authority can receive federal grantsor they can ask for up to 2 mils for tax levy. However, boardattorney Bob Allen said he would have the supervisors enter into aninter-local agreement to protect the interests of LincolnCounty.

“The ultimate decision for taxing Lincoln County remains with theboard of supervisors, not with the railroad board,” Allen said ofwhat the inter-local agreement would provide countyofficials.

During the hearing, Russ urged supervisors that time was of theessence regarding the formation of the authority. Natchez RailwayLLC, which has ties with Utah’s A&K Railroad Materials, a largerailroad scrap company, owns the railroad.

Natchez Railway LLC bought the line from Canadian National in 2009and agreed to operate the rail for two years. The term will be upin June.

Natchez Railway officials have said they intend to continue tooperate the Natchez-Brookhaven line and have no plans to abandonit.

Among those in attendance in favor of the railroad authority wasBrookhaven-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice PresidentCliff Brumfield, who thinks it is necessary to keep the railroadopen for future economic growth. The railroad runs through LinbrookBusiness Park.

“There will certainty be big projects coming and we want to protect(interests) of the rail today,” said Brumfield.

Also smiling after the supervisors’ decision was John Ward, plantmanager at American Railcar Industries in Bude in Franklin County.He said the plant employs roughly 100 people, with nearly 20percent being from Lincoln County.

“We work on railcars,” he said. “Without a railroad we’re doneafter 36 years.”