Council moves forward on port

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Port of Demopolis took one step closer to becoming a reality Monday when the city council voted in favor of a bond issue to encompass the preliminary costs of the facility as well as other local needs.

The special called meeting of the Demopolis City Council came Monday morning following a Friday work session that allowed members of the decision-making body to study the best rout to cater to a handful of the cities current problems while also moving forward with a project that Mayor Mike Grayson has long called “a game changer.”

“I’m very optimistic about it,” Grayson said. “My optimism is tempered by realism in that the economy is still not where we need it to be. We’ve got the assets, I would like to think that, we’ve got a plan. I hope and pray we retain the commitment. It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be overnight.”

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Monday’s unanimous vote will allow the city to take out a $4.5 million loan to begin work on a project that will be designed to optimize the economic potential of the Tombigbee River.

“The first thing we are going to do is take out a short-term loan on the port project,” Grayson said. The loan will include $4 million, which is the purchase price of the property the city needs to make the port a reality and $500,000 for the engineering needed to get the facility into usable shape.

“The good news is the majority of our EPA permitting has already been done. A great amount of the infrastructure has already been done,” Grayson said of the hurdles that have already been crossed, prospects that promise to expedite the project’s timetable.

Additionally, the rail spur near the property has been completed and a $400,000 water upgrade has already been performed in the vicinity of the 76 acres the city will purchase. That plot of land sits adjacent to 12 acres the city has already been deeded.

The majority of the discussion Monday went to the other projects to be included in the bond issue. Long tabled agenda items such as the repaving of Sunset Road and the Lem Wilson water project will be included in the bond issue as well as the remodeling of Fire station No. 2 and the paving of an undetermined number of other streets in the city.

The Sunset Road project will see the street redone entirely rather than just having an asphalt overlay as was previously discussed.

“We’re basically building a road. The initial project was to do an overlay on Sunset Road,” Grayson said. However, Mike Baker pointed out to the city that long-term savings would come if the city opted to do the road up to city standards rather than going for a simple overlay that would require continuous upgrading.

“After about four years, the numbers just don’t add up on the overlay,” Grayson said. “The prevailing thought is that if we are going to do it. Let’s do it right the first time.”

The Lem Wilson water improvement project was initially to be included in a Delta Regional Authority grant application. However, after the Sunset Road project failed in a similar grant application last year, the city did not like its chances at getting approval for the water project.

But the biggest obstacles in Monday’s vote were the inclusion of the renovation of Fire station No. 2 and the paving of a yet-to-be-determined number of roads.

“There is a certain amount of unease,” Grayson said of the council’s decision to include in the bond issue a pair of projects whose cost is not yet known. “I think, in the long term, the port will generate money to help with these other things.”

While the costs of two of the projects are not yet known, the council estimates the Sunset Road project at $288,000 and the Lem Wilson water project at $196,000.

“There is no absolute drop dead date, but we need numbers and reliable numbers as quickly as possible,” Grayson said of Fire station No. 2 before turning his attention to the paving project. “We need to get with Mike Baker for him to priortize what the other six (road) projects are.”