Road closure for ‘greater good’

Published 10:08 pm Saturday, March 20, 2010

SELMA — Greg Page has worked at Bush Hog for 32 years. He’s 54 years old, not the best age to start looking for a job.

And he’s concerned.

Page, a machine operator at Bush Hog, worries about the safety of people at the plant and about children who play in the streets around the plant. He operates a forklift, so he sees the children day in and day out.

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“You just wouldn’t believe the traffic on the streets and the people coming up in the plant,” he said.

Page and nearly 300 more like him are at risk right now.

Bush Hog’s ownership, Alamo Group Inc., wants to close the streets surrounding the manufacturer. Plant officials cite safety and security of workers and those who come and go on those streets.

The liability is enormous, plant officials have said. In fact, the liability is so great, Bush Hog has to pay a separate liability policy. It can’t come under Alamo’s umbrella policy.

The separate policy means a great deal more overhead, which stymies growth at the plant.

And if the Selma City Council doesn’t vote to close those roads surrounding the plant, Alamo may have to shut down Bush Hog to reduce overtime in these hard economic times.

A closure of Bush Hog would mean more on the unemployment rolls of Dallas County, which now has 20.1 percent unemployment. About 75 percent of those who work at Bush Hog live in Dallas County.

Additionally, if Bush Hog should close, the city of Selma would lose thousands in tax dollars it could ill-afford to lose.

But mostly, for people like Page, it would be, as he said, “a travesty.”

“I would probably have to relocate, find a job and everything,” Page said. “It wouldn’t be nice.”

Page’s wife works, but they have a daughter in college and a son in the 10th grade at Selma High.

Page said he could operate just about any big machine and can work a little on a computer. He feels like he has enough skills to find another job, but his age is a big drawback, and he has spent so much time at Bush Hog until starting over would mean a lower pay rate, which would hurt his family.

Selma stands to lose more if the city council does not vote soon to close those streets.

Howard May, an official at the plant, said Alamo Group already has a company seeking to partner with them. It’s a $20 million investment. The equipment, the lines already exist in Selma at the Bush Hog plant.

But Alamo won’t bring down the prospect because of the liability issue.

“If the council closes the streets, we’re back in the running,” he said.

Wayne Vardaman, president of the Dallas County Economic Development Authority, said a $20 million investment would entrench Bush Hog in this location and provide badly needed jobs here in Selma.

“It would be of great benefit to our community economically,” he said.

People who work at the plant also would benefit from the higher production through better benefits and wages.

But for any investment to occur, the city council, which only has three sure votes to close the streets around the plant, has to vote in favor of closure.

“The greater good,” said Susan Keith of Ward 2. “You have to think about the greater good.”

Keith, the Rev. Dr. Cecil Williamson of Ward 1 and Dr. Monica Newton of Ward 3 are the only members of the council who have come out for closing the streets.

The Rev. B.L. Tucker of Ward 6, where Bush Hog is located, said he wants to keep the streets open.

The other say they want a compromise or they are unsure.

“It’s not rocket science,” Williamson said. “You either close those streets or you risk losing the jobs.”