Road closing delayed

Published 9:26 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SELMA — A majority of the Selma City Council has voted to delay closing streets surrounding Bush Hog until Norfolk Southern Railroad comes back with a memorandum of understanding saying it will allow the city to construct an extension of Etheridge Avenue over railroad tracks.

Voting to delay closing the streets were Corey Bowie, Angela Benjamin, the Rev. B.L. Tucker and Bennie Ruth Crenshaw.

Voting against the delay were Susan Keith, Dr. Monica Newton and the Rev. Dr. Cecil Williamson.

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Sam Randolph was absent because he was activated by the National Guard. Dr. Geraldine Allen, president of the council, was absent. No reason was given for her absence. This is the third regular council meeting in a row Allen has missed.

The vote came after Mayor George Evans suggested a delay on the vote to receive the memorandum of understanding from the railroad. Evans, Keith, Williamson and Tucker were in a meeting with representatives from Northfolk Southern and Wayne Vardaman, president of the Dallas County Economic Authority, Monday to work out a deal.

James Bearden, a Bush Hog official, said his company would wait two weeks on a decision.

At issue is whether Bush Hog’s parent company, Alamo Group Inc., will keep the plant open if the city does not close surrounding streets. The company is concerned about the safety and security of its employees and people who come and go on the public streets, some cutting through the property where forklifts whiz around most of the day.

Also at issue is a $20 million worker investment from another company seeking to partner with Alamo Group. Officials at Alamo group have indicated Bush Hog Selma is a good location for this new venture.

Evans told the council to close the streets without a memorandum of understanding from the railroad would be unfair to the people who live around the plant.

“It’s not about life and death right now,” he said. “It’s to cure some ills we’ve had for years.”

The plan is to build a cul-de-sac at Griffin Avenue inside Bush Hog property, then extend Ethredge Avenue to the south, over the railroad tracks to J.L. Chestnut Jr. Boulevard. The crossing would have to have arms, bells and lights, according to Evans. The county, city, Bush Hog and EDA would share in the cost of the project.

Benjamin said the railroad portion of the plan is “brand new information.” However, she attended Monday night’s meeting in which it was discussed. But she said she wants a written document with plans and prices.

“I want it written down,” Benjamin said. “I’m a social worker.”

Bowie followed Benjamin’s lead, saying he wants a memorandum of understanding from all parties with a dollar amount included.

After the vote near the close of the meeting, Bowie said to Bush Hog officials sitting in the audience, “Delayed, but not denied. A good business plan starts with strategic planning. That’s what’s happening here.”