City moves ahead on closed bridge, emergency repair

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 26, 2010

It was a housecleaning day of sorts for the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen Thursday.

The board declared an emergency for a pipe failure on Spring Street, identified a storage site for 940 crowd-control barricades, named a

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recreation area on Mission 66, proceeded with asking for a federal appropriation to get the Washington Street bridge project funded and increased fees for the rental of city sports fields and recreation sites.

Public Works Director Bubba Rainer said a sewage pipe at Spring and Crawford streets stopped up Wednesday, and when a city crew attempted to pump it out, “They actually got our cleaning machine stuck in there,” which collapsed the pipe.

Rainer said sewage has not leaked out of the pipes into a nearby creek, but an immediate repair is needed. “It may be over $25,000, and we do have monies in our operating budget to handle this,” Rainer said.

Rainer said the pipes at the collapse site have been problematic in the past.

Barrier storage

The 940 metal barricades purchased for the police department via a grant will be stored in the ground floor of the city’s parking garage on South and Walnut streets.

The department has been looking for a place to store the barriers since January, when the Vicksburg Board of Architectural Review nixed the idea of building a 3,750-square-foot storage building at 601 Depot St. Next, plans were in the works to purchase a pair of 53-foot tractor-trailers at about $5,000 each to store the barricades.

“We have looked the city over, and we believe the best place would be at the city garage on the first floor, with the entrance off South Street,” said Police Chief Walter Armstrong.

The police chief said the barriers should take up no more than seven parking spots, and will be secured with a chain and monitored by security cameras in the parking ramp monitored at the police station on Veto Street.

“It’s the same area where NRoute buses are parked,” Armstrong said. “Right now there are probably only one or two other vehicles that are parking there other than the buses.”

The barricades were purchased with a $67,680 federal Justice Assistance Grant, and are to be used downtown during parades and festivals.

James “Fuzzy” Johnson Memorial Park

In an ongoing effort to bring new life to a baseball field and basketball courts at Mission 66 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the board approved naming the recreational area the James “Fuzzy” Johnson Memorial Park in honor of the former city employee.

“James ‘Fuzzy’ Johnson was particularly known, respected and admired for his great interest and concern for the welfare of the youth in the city of Vicksburg — in particular the youth who didn’t necessarily come from affluent backgrounds” said Mayor Paul Winfield, who added Johnson is “part of the reason why I’m sitting up in this chair today.”

Johnson worked in the parks and recreation department from 1961 through his retirement in 1994, and was active in recreational leagues at the park that now bears his name. Johnson died Aug. 9, 2009, at age 65.

Work on the concession stand at the park is now complete, said Winfield, and more work on the fields will continue. Efforts to clean up the park and bring baseball leagues back have been spearheaded by resident Earnest Galloway, whom Winfield commended Thursday. Parks and Recreation Department Director Joe Graves said he is working with Galloway to have a new baseball league in place for play beginning May 1.

Winfield said corporate sponsorship is needed, and he stressed the park and baseball league will be successful only if the community gets behind it and parents get involved. Multiple efforts to clean up the park in the past have been thwarted by vandalism and criminal activity on the grounds.

“I’m asking that we get up off our laurels and get outside our comfort zones to help. Anything you have to offer will not be too small,” the mayor said. “We’re going to need coaches, and we’re going to need sponsors. A lot of these young men’s lives are hanging on this.” 

Washington Street bridge

Another step was taken toward requesting a federal earmark for roughly $4 million needed to get the long-stalled Washington Street bridge replacement project at Clark Street under way.

City Attorney Lee Davis Thames Jr. was given approval by the board to make a formal request to U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran for the funding. Thames said the deadline to make the request, which can be filed online, is March 5. He said a rough draft would be finished by the end of this week, and a final draft will be submitted early next week.

The 80-year-old bridge at Clark Street — a vital part of the city’s main north-south thoroughfare through downtown — has been closed to all traffic since Jan. 23, 2009, and was limited to lighter loads before that. The city plans a road-topped railway tunnel as the replacement.

The tunnel is estimated to take from a year to 18 months once work begins. When the city began planning for the bridge replacement in 2006, it estimated the cost at $5 million and set aside that much of a $16.9 million bond issue for the work. The Federal Railroad Administration is to reimburse the city $4 million of the cost. However, when bids were taken on the work in early 2009 the cost had grown to nearly twice the original estimate.

A not-to-exceed $8.6 million agreement was made last summer with Kanza Construction of Topeka, Kan., but Rainer has said it is not clear if cost estimates have risen since then. After looking for funds through the federal stimulus act, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and myriad state and federal grants, the city has deemed a federal earmark in the fiscal year 2011 budget the best bet for funding. It also topped the wish list local officials presented Thompson, Wicker and Cochran on an annual lobbying trip to Washington D.C. earlier this month.

“This bridge project is our No. 1 priority,” said Winfield. “We’re going to keep our fingers crossed and hopefully we’ll get this project funded.”

Recreational fee increases

The cost of renting the pavilion or pool at the City Park on Lee Street is going up, as are other recreational rentals in the city. The board approved a new schedule of fees for the parks and recreation department Thursday, after having tabled the issue at its past two meetings.

The fee to rent the City Park pavilion is now $75 per day, up from $25, and the refundable deposit for cleaning up the site has gone to $100 from $25. Pool rental is now $400, up from $200.

The increases were recommended by Graves and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, who served as parks and recreation director for eight years before being elected to the board in 2001. Beauman was absent from the meeting, leaving Winfield and Mayfield to approve the fee hikes.

“These are adjustments that have not been made since 1993,” said Winfield.

Graves said he inquired about recreational fees at seven other municipalities and found Vicksburg’s to be below all of them.

“We’re still far below practically every one of them,” Mayfield said.

Contact Steve Sanoski at