KCS pays up, clearing back debt to bridge|[10/13/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Kansas City Southern railroad company check for $601,000 in back payments to the Vicksburg Bridge Commission Wednesday may ease growing tensions between the tenant and landlord of the county-owned U.S. 80 Mississippi River Bridge.

The balance of discussions could not be known because the five-member commission, appointed by supervisors, closed its discussion under the &#8221potential litigation“ exception of the Mississippi Open Meetings law to talk with representatives of KCS.

Following the closed session in which the check was handed over, Commissioner Ray Wade said the group aired mutual grievances and agreed to continue negotiations.

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&#8221We talked about some things we never talked about before, like considering a new lease,“ said Robert Moss, commission chairman.

KCS continued its practice of remaining mum.

Moss said it’s time to draw up a new lease. The parties have been relying on a 1928 document, written two years before the bridge opened.

Herman Smith, bridge superintendent, said under the lease as modified by the cost-setting terms, the KCS rate has been $4 per car for the first 125,000 cars per year and $3.75 for each car after that.

The check received Wednesday was for a rate of $3.75 per car that was in effect from March through August.

Smith said KCS sends approximately 25,000 cars over the Mississippi River each month and pays the commission approximately $1.2 million a year for the service. The estimated total yearly revenue for the Bridge Commission is $1.4 million, with the other $200,000 in revenue coming from leases for fiber optic cables and a natural gas line that cross the river.

Before receiving the check, the commission had spent all of its funds for the year and was in the red $102,827.41, Smith said.

Tensions between the commission and KCS have simmered since about eight years ago when supervisors agreed to sell the bridge outright to the rail company. The county reneged on that deal due to public pressure and has been considering proposals to make part of the span’s former roadway a public park. KCS, in writing, has opposed any such plan and pledged litigation if part development is pursued.

KCS was behind on its payments and commissioners in September adopted a new rate – $14 per rail car effective Sept. 15.

&#8221This is the first time we’ve billed at this rate,“ Moss said, and it may have brought KCS to the table. Commissioners said since negotiations will continue the $14 rate is not set in stone. At that rate and current usage, the cost to KCS would rise from $1.2 million per year to approximately $4 million.

In business conducted openly, the commission voted to raise the pay for all employees by 5 percent, matching raises awarded generally to Warren County employees effective Oct. 1.

Reports were also received on maintenance projects. Riverside Construction has just begun drainage-related work on the east bank, said consultant Lynn Wolfe of ABMB Engineers.

Wolfe said Riverside has 24 days to complete its 90-day contract. He added that the company has cited Hurricane Katrina for trouble getting started, but has not asked for an extension.

The hurricane was also cited for stalling work by Boh Brothers Construction, a New Orleans-based company, on the east approach.

&#8221They’re heavily involved with the government trying to get I-10 back up,“ said Smith. &#8221Most of their employees lived in Bay St. Louis.“