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Delegation makes case for local funding

A delegation of representatives from Demopolis and Marengo County went to Montgomery on Monday to present its case for grant funding for an access road to the Airport Industrial.

The delegation included Debra M. Fox, executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Agency, and Kathryn Friday of MCEDA; Demopolis mayor Cecil P. Williamson; Demopolis mayor-elect Mike Grayson; John Clyde Riggs, director of the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Commission; Chuck Smith of RockTenn Mill Co.; Marengo County commissioners Freddie Armistead and Ken Tucker; and Phillip Guin of the engineering firm of Almon and Associates.

“We wanted to show them that we have a true partnership within the county,” Fox said, “and that we have several local resources of funds not only in money, but also in in-kind services.”

The delegation sought $2.18 million in grant monies to help with the project. The total of the grant monies available statewide through the Alabama Industrial Road and Bridge Corp. (AIRBC) is $11 million annually.

The members of the AIRBC are Joe McInnes, the director of the Alabama Dept. of Transportation (ALDOT) and the president of AIRBC; Kay Ivey, the Alabama state treasurer and vice president of AIRBC; and Jim Main, the state finance director and secretary of AIRBC.

“We had three meetings (Monday) in Montgomery,” Fox said. “We met with the three panelists from AIRBC to discuss the grant funds that they award each fall. We brought a binder of information with the amended application to make them aware that we went back and reduced the original amount that we requested. We also took economic impact studies and letters of intent.”

The original proposed amount for the access road project was $3.3 from the engineering firm of Goodwin, Mills and Kawood. Almon and Associates was able to whittle that down to $2,178,218.60. The Demopolis City Council approved that change at a special meeting on Sept. 23.

“Our goal was to reduce the amount of funds that we originally sought,” Fox said. “We wanted to show the urgency to get the road in better shape, to make it wider and to make it more usable so the incoming companies would have no problems getting in and out.”

“The first proposal had little if any chance of being passed,” Grayson said. “The downside of it is that the pot is relatively small, and you have a lot of little chickens trying to feed out of that. We may not get the whole thing this year, but not all of the money will be due up front. Conceivably, we might get the whole amount, but we might get some this year and part in the next fiscal year; that’s not out of the question.

“One of the things that Mr. McInnes pointed out was that Gov. Bob Riley has declared that we need to do something in west Alabama. We could be looking at the creation of 130 jobs, but 130 jobs to Marengo County and west Alabama is a heck of a lot more meaningful than 150 jobs in Shelby County or wherever, especially the wages that we’re talking about being paid. So, it’s an opportunity to put the money where it will have a real, real impact, and that was very encouraging.”

Nothing was determined on Monday, but there will be a hearing in Montgomery on Thursday, Oct. 9, at 10 a.m. However, members of the delegation had reason to feel optimistic about the chances of being approved for the grant.

“We had a very good round of meetings,” Fox said. “We understand that we may or may not get the entire requested amount, but we will be grateful to get help of any amount for this road because we greatly need this road right now.

“I’ve been through this process successfully when I was with Thomasville, so I knew it was important that we make these officials aware of the support behind this project and the need for making a long-term economic effect from these funds. It was very important that we have public and private support and a partnership among several entities. We had a real team effort.”

“(Ms. Ivey) was very encouraging,” said Grayson. “She gave us a few points as to things that we might do if we had to go with a Plan B or a Plan C. I felt very good about that. Joe McInnes was also encouraging, and he mentioned that we had a team there, so it was good that we were there to back up the written plan.

“All in all, a very positive thing. How positive? We’ll probably know on Oct. 9. That’s when the full committee meets, and we’ll know exactly what’s going on at that point.”

“So many people just send in the paperwork and don’t actually go to Montgomery to see the people,” Williamson said. “They were impressed with our making an effort and letting them see our faces. They already know my face, and they know Debra, and that’s always good. It’s very helpful to be seen, so they know if they don’t get the money this year, that we’ll be back next year and the next and the next. I think it was a good day for the City of Demopolis.”