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Alabama River projects get Selma City Council nod

Selma soon could become a destination stop for boaters who cruise along the Alabama River.

The Selma City Council has taken initial steps to ensure boaters will pull up and get fuel at the Selma City Marina, but other projects, including a boat dock, could become a reality.

Thornton Clark, vice president of Alabama Scenic River Trail, said a pump at the city’s marina is a done deal and the city has a good chance to win a competitive grant for a floating boat dock near the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“Developments, such as these are important to the Scenic River Trail and to Selma,” Clark said during a recent interview.

The 637-mile river trail is the longest in any state of the country. It begins at the Georgia state line and winds across nine lakes. The trail follows seven rivers and two creeks and after passing through the Delta, follows the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, ending at Fort Morgan.

But Clark pointed out there is only one source of gasoline on the Alabama River along the trail, and that’s at Miller’s Bend. Boaters need another place to fuel.

Soon, boaters will have that opportunity at the marina. The city will receive a $17,780 grant to replace the pump at the marina. The grant needed a 20 percent match, according to Charlotte Griffeth, director of the Selma Planning and Development Department.

Selma City Council members Jean Martin, Cecil Williamson and council President George Evans gave $3,500 from their oil lease money funds to see the match through, according to Evans.

Last week, Griffeth’s department filled out the fund after the council approved a resolution to support the project. “Now, they’ll send the money down,” she said. “This is just a formality that ADECA (Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs) said we had to come back and complete.”

The $600,000 federal grant to pay 75 percent of a floating dock may take a little more time to realize, but the city council has unanimously agreed to put the 25 percent cash match into the 2008-09 budget. The paperwork for the grant went into the federal government last week.

Clark said the grant would provide a 26-foot-access to boaters and a ramp, providing a place for boaters to tie up for the night.

Retirees who motor along the river trail usually spend eight hours a day on the rivers at speeds about 15 mph, and are ready to take a break when evening comes, Clark said. Alabama’s Scenic River Trail doesn’t provide many places along the Alabama River for those boaters. “You could have them come up here and spend money in Selma,” he said.

Economic impact specialists in other states say docks along the river bring 10s of millions of dollars into their states each year in tourism. “I think this might be an exaggeration,” Clark said, “but Selma would realize an economic boost from this.”

The project would call for Selma to maintain the dock, but that would cost little money. The government would pay for lighting.

Clark suggested if the city wins the grant, it should allow free docking. “I would suggest you try to attract boats first, and try to make money later,” he said. “Allow docking for free for the first three years.”