Bid awarded for widening of city’s canal|[03/21/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met a deadline and has awarded a construction bid to widen the Yazoo Diversion Canal, city and county officials have been notified.

It is a milestone for the on-again, off-again project that has been planned for at least 10 years and for which full funding has been a challenge.

The work will allow better and safer water traffic between the Port of Vicksburg and the Mississippi River.

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Cleveland, Miss.-based 4H Construction submitted the lowest of three bids opened in June 2006 to widen the channel for larger tows to pass City Front.

Its $4.7 million offer surpassed government estimates by about $1 million, however, leading to months of scurrying by city and county officials to find ways to shore up funding. The company agreed three times to extend its bid deadline, the latest of which was set to expire Tuesday.

The total project cost is $5.3 million, with the City of Vicksburg, through the Mississippi Development Authority and federal block grants, and the Warren County Port Commission sharing $1.8 million of the cost. The federal government is paying the rest.

The scope of the widening is expected to stay as planned, with the 190-foot bottom width between the canal’s junction with the Mississippi River and Glass Bayou widened to 260 feet. From there, the bottom width would reach 185 feet to the harbor channel.

Industries along the port have long supported the project to spur more ship traffic, and, with it, the hope of business expansion. A major ethanol plant is now under construction at the port’s E.W. Haining Industrial Center, joining an oil refinery and many other firms that rely on river commerce.

Last week, Corps officials expressed confidence to Vicksburg and Warren County about the level of federal funding for the project, expected to top out at $3.9 million.

The portion of funds available will stem from the $813 million appropriation allotted to the Corps by Congress.

This month, the Warren County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to issue up to $2.5 million in bonds to cover costs associated with replacing a T-dock support structure at the port.

As a last-ditch measure, a portion of that was planned to cover about $272,000 of $615,000 in shortfalls expected in the canal project. It was not yet clear whether that money will be needed.