By John Howell
ENID LAKE – CN Railroad’s May 12 announcement of a pending sale of its Grenada rail line connecting Jackson and Memphis motivated interest among affected municipalities and counties along its route sufficient to attract an overflow crowd to a Tuesday meeting at the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery auditorium at Enid Lake.
That crowd included a host of Yalobusha officials – Supervisors Butch Surrette, Tommy Vaughn, Bubba Tillman and Amos Sims; board of supervisors attorney John Crow, Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn, Circuit Clerk Daryl Burney, Water Valley Mayor-elect Larry Hart, Yalobusha County Economic Development Association Director Bob Tyler and Oakland Riley Swearengen among them.
The CN announcement that the proposed buyer, Grenada Railway LLC, is a non-carrier affiliate of a company engaged in railroad salvage prompted speculation that the sale is the first move toward the line’s abandonment. The buyer is also an affiliate of V & S Railway, which operates short lines in Colorado and Kansas, according to CN’s sale announcement.
Elected and appointed officials from municipal, county, state and federal government were joined by economic development representatives at the meeting organized by state representatives Warner McBride of Batesville and Tommy Reynolds of Water Valley.
“We need to meet with the prospective owner and determine what their intentions are,” said Chip Morgan of the Delta Council.
“On something like this, it would be so much easier to work with a single body,” said Brad Morris, Congressman Travis Childers’ Chief of Staff.
In the end, that’s what happened. An impromptu coalition of representatives of each of the affected counties, municipalities and economic development organizations was appointed to meet quickly to select a small committee to meet with officials of Grenada Railway LLC and V & S Railway. Expediency is necessary because the 30-day sale notice from CN began with its notification letter to state officials dated May 12.
Tyler was appointed secretary pro tempore of the coalition.
Hart said that he had contacted an official of A and K Salvage, the non-carrier affiliate of Grenada Railway, LLC, who told him, “It was their intention to operate this railroad.”
The Water Valley Mayor-elect said the A and K spokeman assured him that he would be glad to meet and address concerns about the rail line’s future.
Others attending included county and municipal elected officials and economic developers from DeSoto, Tate, Yalobusha, Grenada, Montgomery, Calhoun, LeFlore, Holmes and Carroll Counties, Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor and other Mississippi Department of Transportation officials, representatives from the Delta Council, the Mississippi Development Authority, the offices of Congressman Childers and Senator Roger Wicker.
“It’s been a long time I’ve seen this diverse a group from this part of the state working together on something,” Representative McBride said at the meeting’s finish.
Economic development officials both from Tate and Panola Counties said that they current industrial prospects for expansions that could be jeopardized by an uncertain future for rail in their counties.
Other information shared at the meeting included:
• Skepticism among Yalobusha supervisors about CN claims about current rail line traffic of one train per week. The letter from CN Southern Region Senior Vice President Jim Vena stated “the Grenada line produced approximately 21 carloads per day, based on a five-day week.”
“We’ve got a number of people who work on the railroad,” Butch Surrett said. “I’ve got a neighbor who goes to Grenada every night. If they’ve only got one train a week, he’s got some explaining to do.”
• Yalobusha supervisor Tillman said he was concerned about a further loss of the county’s ad valorem tax base. He said that Chancery Clerk McMinn provided copies of tax statements that show that CN pays Yalobusha County about $45,000 annually.
“That would hurt a little old county like this,” Tillman said.
• Oakland Mayor Swearengen reminded the group that CN’s owns right-of-way that often extends far beyond the immediate clearance on each side of the track. Oakland was forced to buy its Main Street from (Illinois Central, the line’s previous owner/CN).
Hart, Vaughn Will Serve On Railroad Coalition
By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – Yalobusha Supervisors selected District One Supervisor Tommy Vaughn and Water Valley Mayor-Elect Larry Hart as their two representatives to served on the Railroad Coalition.
The Coalition is composed of two delegates selected from each of the 11 Mississippi counties who would be affected if the rail line connecting Memphis to Jackson is closed.
“We started this game in the fourth quarter. We have got to get it in the end zone fast,” reported Yalobusha County Economic Development Director Bob Tyler, who serves as the organization’s secretary.
Tyler attended the “first Monday” supervisor meeting in Water Valley to ask for the appointments from Yalobusha County.
“We decided we wanted Tommy (Vaughn) to serve on that committee, we probably need to ratify that this morning,” District Three Supervisor M.H. “Butch Surrette said, referring to an informal decision made at a railroad meeting last Wednesday to appoint Vaughn to the committee.
“Can I make a recommendation, just off the top of my head?” Vaughn asked, addressing the second appointment needed from the county. “We got three mayors in this county,” Vaughn continued, noting that Oakland Mayor Riley Swearengen and Coffeeville Mayor Mack Burns each had full time jobs.
Vaughn then recommended Larry Hart, a suggestion which found favor with the board.
“I think Larry would be the person,” Board President Amos Sims agreed, noting the amount of time Hart had already invested in the movement.
“He has already made some phone calls,” District Five Supervisor Bubba Tillman agreed.
In a second rail-related item on Monday’s agenda, supervisors also passed a resolution opposing the sale and/or disposition of Water Valley and Grenada branch rail lines without commitments to continue the operation of rail lines.
Supervisor also authorized the resolution to be published in this week’s Herald.
The Railroad Coalition has its next scheduled meeting Wednesday night at 6:30 at the City Hall in Grenada.
“I would think that our objectives Wednesday night is to select a small, entergic executive committee and tell them to go after this thing,” Tyler speculated.
“I was told the Mississippi Development Authority was going to assign someone to this project, I hope we will know the name of this person by Wednesday’s meeting,” Tyler.
Tyler also pointed to other organizations which were “on board” to help include the Delta Council, North Mississippi Planning and Development, Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, Tennessee Valley Authority and others.
RESOLUTION OPPOSING SALE AND/OR DISPOSITION OF WATER
VALLEY AND GRENADA BRANCH RAIL LINES IN YALOBUSHA COUNTY WITHOUT COMMITMENTS FROM CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY AND GRENADA RAILWAY, LLC TO CONTINUE OPERATION OF RAIL LINES
WHEREAS, the Grenada and Water Valley Branch Rail Lines located in Yalobusha County are both viable and vital to the future of Yalobusha County and North Mississippi; and,
WHEREAS, the continued growth of Yalobusha County and North Mississippi is dependent upon the continued operation of the Grenada and Water Valley Branch Rail lines; and,
WHEREAS, the Surface Transportation Board has before it a Petition filed by the Canadian National Railway to sell said line to Grenada Railway, LLC; and,
WHEREAS, the sale contains no binding commitment by the Grenada Railway, LLC to continue operation of the rail lines; and,
WHEREAS, the abandonment of the rail lines would be detrimental to efforts by Yalobusha County and the effected counties of North Mississippi to be competitive in the attraction of industry to Yalobusha County and North Mississippi.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF YALOBUSHA COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, that it opposes any sale by Canadian National Railroad to sell said lines without a firm and binding commitment from any purchaser to continue operation of the rail lines and does further oppose any effort to abandon said rail lines because of the detrimental impact upon the citizens of Yalobusha County and North Mississippi.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a certified copy of this Resolution be forwarded to the Surface Transportation Board, the Canadian National Railroad and the Grenada Railway, LLC.
SO RESOLVED, the the 1st day of June, 2009.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
YALOBUSHA COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI
BY: /s/ Amos Sims
AMOS SIMS, PRESIDENT
/s/ Amy F. McMinn
AMY F. MCMINN
CLERK OF THE BOARD