County vows to help pay for widening of canal|[9/29/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 29, 2006

Warren County will pitch in cash, if needed, to help a long-planned widening of the Yazoo Diversion Canal move toward fruition.

Supervisors made the commitment Thursday in case grant funds sought by the City of Vicksburg fall short.

The money will come from Port Commission funds, they said.

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The canal, 102 years old, was dug to restore a waterway at City Front after the Mississippi River changed course after the Civil War. It now connects the Port of Vicksburg and E.W. Haining Industrial Center to the Mississippi.

Vicksburg officials are facing a gap and seeking an additional grant because the lowest bid came in more than $1 million over the federal government’s estimated cost of the project. The $4,660,765 bid by Cleveland, Miss.-based 4H Construction Corporation expires Oct. 20.

About $650,000 in block grants transferred from other projects remain pledged to the city to pay for the widening, but so far only about $500,000 has been secured, City Attorney Nancy Thomas said Thursday. With the potential gap in funding of $150,000, city officials sought help from the county.

&#8220That difference will ultimately decide if we’ll be OK without it or not,” she said.

Warren County Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Jim Pilgrim said the most agreeable option for the port board was a 60-40 split, as was done earlier this year when $108,000 was transferred to the city toward the project.

&#8220The Port Commission’s position is that we would do the same split as before. But we want and need it to go forward,” he said.

A public hearing is set for Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. by the city board Monday to gather public comment on amending its grant application.

Planned by the Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city and the Port Commission, the effort will be funded chiefly by federal sources but the local match is key to getting the work started.

Increasing the width of the canal has been seen as vital to increase its capacity, thereby spurring the business at the port.

&#8220We need (this) for future development at the port,” District 1 Supervisor David McDonald said.

Plans for the widening call for turning a 150-foot bottom width into a 250-foot bottom width from the junction with the Mississippi River to Glass Bayou and 200-foot bottom from there to the entrance to the harbor channel.

When the bids came in too high, Pilgrim said the project could be scaled back by deleting the work north of Glass Bayou.

Officials began looking at widening the canal in the 1990s as tonnage moved to and from the Mississippi River gradually increased. Bulk materials moving through the port during August was reported by Kinder Morgan Bulk Terminals Inc. at 25,220 tons, up by nearly 6,000 tons over July.

In other business, supervisors agreed to have David Rankin, information systems manager, and John Smith, county administrator, inform the Election Commission on the need to add subdistricts in five voting precincts for the Nov. 7 elections.

Rankin said the addition was needed to alleviate irregularities between boundaries that make up the two subdistricts in the 9th Circuit Court District and new supervisor district lines approved in 2003.

The move will create new ballots for 454 voters at the Cedar Grove, Kings, International Paper, Vicksburg Junior High School and No. 7 Fire Station precincts. With the change to touch-screen voting machines, those new ballots entail little more than creating new files inside the card that voters insert to cast their vote.

Voters will not have to switch from their usual polling places for the election, the first Circuit Court judicial race since the new supervisor district lines came into existence.

The judgeship serves Issaquena, Sharkey and Warren counties, with Warren County split into two subdistricts. Incumbent Frank Vollor is being challenged by Assistant District Attorney John Bullard in Subdistrict 2, while Judge Isadore Patrick is unopposed in Subdistrict 1.