Vidalia Hosts First Hearing on Use of Hydroelectric Proceeds – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper

VIDALIA, La. – Vidalia officials on Monday held the first of two public meetings to discuss the use of hydroelectric royalties from the Sidney A. Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Plant, from which the city gets its electricity.

The second public session is scheduled for Monday 22 August at 6pm at Vidalia Town Hall.

Although the hydroelectric plant was the brainchild of former Vidalia Mayor Sidney Murray Jr., it is not owned by the city. It would require a series of investments from multiple companies to make it happen. Before the hydroelectric power plant was commissioned in August 1990, the city of Vidalia reached an agreement with Catalyst Energy Corporation, one of the main investors in the project. Catalyst would own the facility, with Vidalia remaining a co-licensee. In 2030, the city will have the option to buy back the $550 million station for $1,000. In addition, Vidalia will receive royalties from the facility equal to 6 percent of the gross revenue of the facility from the sale of its electricity under the agreement.

Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said he did not have specifics at this time on how much revenue the city would receive from the hydroelectric power plant. However, he said the city expects about $22 million in revenue this year.

“It’s enough to do everything we talked about tonight,” Craft said.

Part of this would be used to pay off municipal debts for the Vidalia substation, the existing recreation complex near Vidalia municipal buildings and a new fire engine.

“We could save half a million in interest each year by paying off our municipal debt. … The city would be completely debt free,” Craft said.

Another use is the renovation of the building of the Council on Aging and Masonic Lodge No. 305.

“It’s a heavily used building, a very prominent building in the city, and it’s a historic building,” Craft said. “It is in dire need of repair and refurbishment and I would like us to get estimates of what would be required for a refurbishment. Our seniors deserve to have a nice place to go and things to do.”

Another plan for the funds is the completion of Polk Park, located in the area adjacent to the community complex. Bryant Hammett of Bryant Hammett & Associates LLC, based in Ferriday, Louisiana, presented a concept for the Polk Park project at Monday’s meeting.

The proposed concept is to upgrade the area around the Vidalia pond by adding a water feature and pavilions around it, adding an additional pier and beaches.

Part of the existing tennis courts could be converted into eight pickleball courts, leaving 9 tennis courts. North of the tennis and pickleball courts is a planned area for a skate park. North of the pond is a planned area for a splash guard and playground. South of the pond is a planned area for an outdoor venue and covered pavilion to host the Vidalia Farmers Market adjacent to the existing community garden. A fenced dog park is proposed for a lawn near where Vidalia hosts its annual Relay for Life. Hiking trails and a disc golf course would also wrap around the entire complex, Hammett said.

Another use for Craft’s proposed funds is to offer the Concordia Parish School Board up to $500,000 for turf on the Vidalia High School football field.

He also called for safety improvements on the baseball fields at the recreation complex.

These projects would come in addition to rebates worth up to half of the city’s utility customers’ bills.

Alderman Tommy Probst said he opposed paying for projects on the school district’s property. “That should be their responsibility,” he said.

He added that baseball field safety should also be the responsibility of the Recreation Board.

“Someone has a problem and I don’t think it’s us. It’s the recreation authority,” he said.

Probst also requested that a portion of the funds be used to trim trees along the city’s power grid to potentially prevent future outages from fallen trees and branches.

Although Alderman Jon Betts fully supports the Polk Park project, he said the city should first “mitigate our debt as much as possible.”

“I don’t want to be a naysayer, but I believe this inflation will turn into a recession. The more of our debt we’ve paid off, the better shape we’ll be,” Betts said.

Alderman Robert Gardener said he would like to see more funding from the city for the summer youth program, for which the city currently pays $4,200. Gardner said he would like to see the fund increased to $5,000. Gardner said he also wants the city to pay for insurance for the annual Memorial Day parade and is evaluating whether adding sidewalks from Riverside Street to Alabama Street and from Alabama Street to Spruce Street would be feasible.

The Vidalia Decree No. 588 sets priorities for the use of the royalties from the hydropower fund. It allows the city to issue hydroelectric fees “for any lawful purpose” after meeting certain conditions.

One of these conditions is that the mayor and the council of aldermen draw up an annual project plan for which the funds are spent, have it published and make it available to the public for inspection. According to the Regulation, this inspection includes two public hearings to discuss the proposed projects and to obtain public input on possible alternative uses of the funds.

After the public hearings, aldermen must approve spending on projects that are “in the best public interest.”

Members of the Vidalia Beautification Committee had their own desires.

Ellen Yates, the committee president, told officials about her plan to erect 30 decorative light poles across the city. Those have been ordered and should arrive later this month, Yates said. Eight of the poles would be placed around the plaza in front of the old courthouse, and the poles would alternate with decorative banners and hanging flower baskets, leading from the old courthouse to the Vidalia Riverfront and along Martin Luther King and Clinton Streets to the riverfront.

During the Christmas season, those poles would be decorated with lighted wreaths, she said.

“We want to see the riverbank lit up at Christmas,” she said.

Yates also said she would like the city and local businesses to support putting up poles and Christmas decorations in front of their properties so they could be placed across the city.

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