Port says OK to purchase of land for canal work|[2/14/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Warren County Port Commission signed off Monday on the lower of two appraisals regarding one of six parcels of land near the Port of Vicksburg, an issue seen as a final hurdle in the long-planned project to widen the Yazoo Diversion Canal.

The 7.23-acre tract is on a spit of land thought to have floated away from DeSoto Island, on the Louisiana side of the canal. Commissioners mulled two appraisals by the same private firm, one for $15,176 and the other for $18,150.

A motion to approve the lower appraisal was made by commissioner Rusty Hawkins and seconded by commissioner Mike Cappaert.

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Ownership of the land was thought to be settled, staff member Jim Pilgrim said, but one private interest recently made claims to the property.

&#8220Nobody knows who owns it,” Pilgrim said.

Board attorney Mack Varner showed a letter from the city attorney’s office suggesting the property be placed in escrow, a notion left unresolved by the board.

Following the first vote, the commission approved giving up the right of way on an adjacent piece of land that it owns to the city of Vicksburg.

The move also requests that the county transfer $108,000 of commission funds to the city to speed up local funding of the $3.9 million project to widen the canal, dug in 1903 to restore a waterfront presence to Vicksburg after the Mississippi River’s flow diverted in the 1870s.

Effectively voting to donate the land to the project, commissioners expressed a desire to see the project get off the ground.

&#8220We’re just trying to cut through all this and get the project going,” chairman Johnny Moss said after the meeting.

In addition to the funds transferred by the port, the project will be paid for by about $500,000 in community development block grant funds and $90,000 from the city.

The federal government will kick in the rest of the $3 million in funding for the project, planned by the Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Vicksburg and the port commission.

It would widen the canal from its junction with the Mississippi River to the entrance to the channel that leads to the E.W. Haining Industrial Center.

In other business, commissioners received the first gross revenue report and tonnage update from Kinder-Morgan Terminals Inc., an operator of the Port of Vicksburg’s dry bulk terminal.

According to the company’s figures, gross revenue for 2005 stood at $879,786. The same report showed total tonnage of dry goods through the port increased from just under 78,114 in 2004 to 133,078 in 2005.

Of that, steel coil traffic increased 60 percent, with less dramatic increases in cottonseed and aluminum-based products.

The figures seemed to temporarily allay doubts the commission has about the volume of traffic Kinder-Morgan moves through the port.

&#8220It’s a positive trend,” Pilgrim said.

In December, the commission and the company agreed to new lease terms, including decreased rent due to a perceived decline in business at the port and agreements to have the company provide the board with monthly financial reports, a renewed marketing and recruitment plan and the right to name the terms of any contract extensions.

Pilgrim also updated commissioners on the first meeting to map out marketing and recruitment strategies, set for Thursday.

Officials with Mississippi Development Authority and Entergy Mississippi will be there, along with commissioners and Kinder-Morgan officials.

&#8220We hope to increase business at the port,” Pilgrim said.

The commission adjourned until 3 p.m. March 20.