By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – “We want to give rural Mississippi families the same benefits as Phil Bryant has living in the Governor’s mansion in downtown Jackson,” Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley reported as plans were unveiled to offer natural gas to over 400 citizens in the Tillatoba community.
Presley’s comments came during a press conference as he joined state and local officials last Friday at Oakland City Hall to share the news that long-anticipated expansion of the Oakland/Yalobusha Gas District is now a reality.
The expansion is funded, in part, by $300,000 appropriated during the 2016 session to extend the gas line south of Oakland to Tillatoba.
“This project required some financing and Rep. Reynolds walked a bill through down there that got us half of the money that we have,” explained Yalobusha County Economic Development and Tourism Director Bob Tyler.
Another $300,000 in funding was allocated through the Appalachian Regional Commission, as the expansion could also be a boost to economic development in the area.
“This area in Yalobusha County has an interstate highway, TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) power, railroad and publicly owned land in a large quantity. With this gas now, I hope we are set up for a lot of good development in the future,” Reynolds explained.
In addition to economic development, Presley also noted that natural gas will lower the cost of living for rural Mississippians.
“We live in the poorest state in the United States of America. A heating bill in the State of Mississippi hurts a family more here than a family in Alabama or Tennessee “We know that if we can give folks in Tillatoba a chance to get natural gas service, it is going to, at a minimum, reduce their heating costs around 50 percent. That is lowering the cost of living and that is why we get excited about these projects and we try to move them forward,” Presley said.
“You have leadership that have made this happen, this is a community effort,” the commissioner added.
Reynolds, one of the state’s longest serving representatives, also shared the history of the gas district that dates back almost three decades when he helped pass a local and private bill authorizing the district, years before it was practical to run the gas lines.
The original line stretched 11 miles from Coffeeville to Oakland, and was also critical for the development of the industrial site where Ajinomoto Foods is now located, according to Reynolds.
Other comments came from Oakland Mayor Riley Swearengen, who also serves as chairman of the gas district, noting that the gas district has been a boost to the west side of the county.
Senator Russell Jolly also praised the local leadership.
“Y’all have a lot to be thankful for with the leadership you have in this county. A lot of counties, they just don’t have the leadership you have,” Jolly said.
A bid notice for the construction of the gas line expansion appears on Page 11.