Committee to change Black Belt for better

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 27, 2005

Black Belt residents and businesses are one step closer to getting high speed internet access after yesterday’s meeting of a Black Belt Committee.

Margaret Bentley, chair of the Infrastructure Committee, said by the end of the day, she hoped that a team would be working to bring high speed access throughout the region.

“That opens it up to the citizens, so they can find out about jobs,” she said.

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The Infrastructure Committee is part of Governor Bob Riley’s Black Belt Action Commission, which is dedicated to improving the lives of Black Belt area residents.

While high speed internet service might help citizens directly, Dallas County Economic Development Director Wayne Vardaman said the improvement would help bring businesses into the area, as well.

Vardaman said high speed access was one of the essentials that Lockheed/Martin requested for a new flight school, that might be located in Craig Field.

“We have no high speed access,” he said.

Other potential improvements were suggested by members of the community who attended the meeting.

Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. brought several problems to the committee. He did say, however, the major problem for the city was sewage and drainage. He talked about several sewage line collapses that occurred last summer.

“We (Selma) are one of the oldest communities in Alabama,” he said. “You can only imagine how old the infrastructure under the ground is.”

Perkins said the city couldn’t afford to renovate its sewage system without help.

“It would probably bankrupt the city,” he said. “We probably wouldn’t be able to come out of that hole for a long time.”

Perkins also supported suggestions from Vardaman to widen and pave several roads in the area, particularly Highway 80.

Vardaman said that when potential industries come to Dallas a lot of them, particularly distributors, cross the area off their list because the county doesn’t have access to an interstate.

“It’s a de-selection, not a selection process,’ Vardaman said, referring to the way choices are made by industries.

Vardaman said it seems that a four-lane highway fits the requirement for some industries who depend on good transportation in an area,” he said.

Vardaman said the improvement would help the whole region.

County Commissioner Kim Ballard also supported road improvements.

“You cannot get to an interstate highway in less than an hour,” Ballard said. “The real development is taking places in direct proximity to two things: interstate highways and major cities. If you’ll level the playing field (with road improvements) we’ll win the game.”

Plans have been announced to repave the road, and eventually widen it into four lanes, although Bentley wasn’t able to give exact dates.

Bentley said the meeting at the Centre for Commerce was exactly what the Commission was all about, getting improvements made with help from the community.

“We’re trying to meet in every county of the Black Belt region.” she said.

While the Committees are trying to avoid holding town-hall style meetings in each of the counties, Bentley said community involvement is important.

To help, the Committees invite local business and political leaders to the Committee meetings.

The Black Belt Action Commission, which the Infrastructure Committee is part of, was formed by Gov. Bob Riley to combat the area’s historic problems, like unemployment and healthcare deficiencies. The Commission is composed of 13 committees, all devoted to “measurably improve the quality of life in Alabama’s Black Belt Region,” according to a press release.