Council finalizes grants for train switch relocation
by Emily Adams
East Alabama Railway will soon begin work to relocate the downtown train switch. The city received a $1.5 million FRA grant in March, and EAR will provide a $758,000 match to cover costs of the project, which will move the switching station two miles west near U.S. 280.
SYLACAUGA – The city is moving forward with relocation of the downtown train switch after the City Council approved grant agreements for the project at its meeting Wednesday.

A $1.5 million Federal Railroad Administration grant was awarded to Sylacauga in March, and after a lengthy process of finalizing the agreements, work will soon begin to move the switch that has long been a traffic headache for residents. The FRA grant is part of a $16.9 million rail relocation and improvement competitive grant program.

The relocation will be carried out by Eastern Alabama Railway, or RailAmerica, which is providing a $758,000 match to the FRA’s grant to meet the estimated $2.3 million total cost of the project. EAR will construct a new switching station about two miles west of the downtown district near U.S. 280. The move is expected to alleviate traffic delays and congestion caused by blocked crossings at the city’s primary north-south thoroughfare and three other roadways.

At an Oct. 23 council work session, EAR assistant general manager Larry Nordquist said the project should be completed within six months to a year.

The council approved the necessary agreements with the FRA and ERA at its meeting and also accepted an agreement with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission for administration services relating to the project at a cost of $50,000.

Addressing the council Wednesday, Nordquist thanked the council for allowing them to proceed and noted that it “is going to be great for the city.”

Also at the meeting, the council approved a request from Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon consultants to file a pre-application with the FAA for land acquisition funding to purchase 18-20 acres between the existing hangars at the Municipal Airport and the Industrial Development Board-owned spec building on Billingsley Road. The land was intended for an airport expansion project until the city discovered it is actually owned by the IDB, which is seemingly not interested in selling the property. The pre-application is not a binding agreement.

In other business, the council:

• Heard from Mayor Doug Murphree, who said he is eager to work with each of the newly inaugurated councilmen. “It’s something like 96 meetings we’ll have over the next four years, and here’s hoping we’ll make a difference,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it, and I know these guys are, too.”

• Heard from David Isbell of The Sanctuary, who reported that the church has sent a team of eight people to Lindenhurst, N.Y., to deliver as many as 5,000 meals as well as coats and diapers to people affected by Hurricane Sandy.

• Heard from Councilman Joe Hogan, who commended citizens for coming to the inauguration Monday. Hogan asked that citizens continue to be optimistic about the new beginning. “I think I speak on behalf of everyone up where when I say, as a city and as a council, we need your help; we need your optimism; we need your guidance, and we need your prayers.”

• Heard from Police Chief Chris Carden, who commended officers and an off-duty fireman for searching for a missing Sylacauga man at Cheaha State Park well into the night Tuesday. The man, whose name Carden preferred to keep private, was recovered after having spent about 10 hours in the woods and hiking15 miles with no flashlight.

• Approved an application for a Class II club liquor license for Harvey’s On Noble.

• Approved an ordinance amending the business license ordinance that raises the annual business license fee from $10 to $12 in alignment with state code. The ordinance also modifies wording of the oil and gas extraction and advertising codes and deletes the insurance carries code due to state regulations.

• Accepted a recommendation from Machen, McChesney and Chastain LLP to lower the city’s capitalization threshold for fixed assets from $5,000 to $1,000.

• Approved $10,000 to cover unfinished paving in two locations. The funds were already set aside as part of the city’s $1 million paving project.

• Approved a contract amendment with SAFE and an agreement with Care House to provide $1,000 to each agency in support of SAFE’s Thanksgiving meal project and Care House’s Christmas care packages. Butch Heigl of Care House thanked the city for supporting the projects that assist thousands of residents during the holidays.

• Approved expenses for Sheila Bridges and Kim Martin to attend the 2012 Alabama Municipal Revenue Officers Workshop in Auburn Dec. 6-7. Registration is $195 each.

• Authorized payments totaling $64,193.52 for October accounts payable invoices.

The next regular council meeting is Nov. 20 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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