The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

June 13, 2014

Athens paves way for industrial park improvements

— Hoping to lure more jobs to Athens’ Elm Street industrial park and fulfill a promise to an incoming industry, City Council members on Thursday approved three proposals that would make expansion possible.

The proposals cover a $1.1 million rail spur and an $825,000 road extension at Wilkinson Drive and Airport Road. The city hopes to obtain $1,075,000 in grants to defray the cost.

“This is an opportunity to finally get some infrastructure in the industrial park to jump-start it,” said City Clerk Annette Barnes.

The rail spur is part of the deal struck with Asahi Kasei Plastics North America to bring a $30 million plastics operation to the park plus 100 jobs in 10 years, Barnes said.

To offset the cost, the city has applied for and hopes to obtain a $575,000 industrial access grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation and a $250,000 TVA investment prop grant, Barnes said.

The rail spur is to be completed in 15 to 18 months and the road will take about a year.

During their meeting Thursday night, council members took action on the following three resolutions:

1. Approving the engineering for railroad design and for construction administration for the North Elm Industrial Park;

2. Approving engineering for the Wilkinson Drive and Airport Road extensions;

3. Approving engineering costs related to the North Elm Industrial Park expansion.

The first resolution relates to the railroad spur the city is constructing.

“We are going to construct a railroad track leading back to the North Elm Industrial Park to connect with the existing rail to Asahi, because they need railroad access,” Barnes said.

The resolution approves the preliminary and final design for the railroad and the administration of the construction, she said. It allows Morell Engineering to do the work within a budget of $170,000. The total project cost is $1,116,000, Barnes said.

“It is not inexpensive with construction and engineering and everything, and it is a long, drawn-out process,” she said.

To help fund the rail spur project, the city and county sold about 51 acres in the area and the city has applied for a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Barnes said. This would require a $50,000 match.

The second resolution approved Thursday permits engineering for the Wilkinson Drive and Airport Road extension. The resolution calls for $60,000 for design, $75,000 for construction engineering and inspection with a total budget of $825,000, $575,000 of that covered by the grant.

“A while back, before the Asahi project became a possibility, the city and county wanted to extend Wilkinson Drive because the Killen property behind the utilities is really not purposeful unless there is infrastructure, including a road and utilities,” Barnes said. “When we bought the Killen property, there was some timber back there, which we sold. The proceeds from the timber sale were put in an account called the Killen Wilkinson Street Extension Project.”

At the same time, Tom Hill, executive director of the Limestone County Economic Development Association, procured money from the Tennessee Valley Authority to help the city pay for the project, Barnes said.

She said the city had to expend approximately $50,000 for wetlands delineation, engineering and other preliminary costs before it could begin road construction. Hill obtained a TVA industrial product readiness grant of $50,000, which required a $20,000 match. The city and county used $20,000 from the $23,000 in timber proceeds to cover that match, Barnes said. Also, in December 2012, the City Council agreed to put in $48,000 and the county agreed to put in $12,000 for the industrial park project.

The third resolution covers all of the preliminary preparations to use the site, such as permitting, wetlands study, surveying and plats, Barnes said.

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