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The Concordia Parish Police Jury adopted resolutions of support for the development of a new rail line in northeastern Louisiana and for tax incentives related to an expansion plan by a Vidalia company.

This was done during the Jury’s regular meeting Monday night.

Bryant Killen, Deputy Director of the Lake Providence Port Commission, outlined plans for the Northeast Louisiana Railroad Development District.

Killen said the long-term project, which could cost as much as $85 million, would result in economic growth for the region. He said when possible the old railroad bed would be used.

The old line, which stretched from McGehee, AR, to Vidalia, was abandoned in the late 1980s by Union Pacific after efforts to keep the line in operation failed.

Jury President Joe Parker said the economy went down in the region when the railroad left the area.

Killen said if the Jury provided its support it would need to consider a resolution of support in January after legal notices printed in the official journal. The Jury would be required to adopt specific ordinances.

In a packet of material provided, it was noted that the district would be governed by nine commissioners who would have the authority to levy an ad valorem tax of up to five mills and borrow money.

According to the documents, the ag industry in East Carroll, Madison, Tensas and Concordia parishes represent a significant economic region. To expand the economic base of each parish and retain farm jobs and create industrial sector opportunities, a railroad is needed.

The district would be a subdivision of the state and might be given the power to issue bonds and levy taxes and assessments.

The primary purpose for creation of the Northeastern Louisiana Railroad Development District would be to promote a rail service in the four parishes which would stimulate the economy through “renewed commerce and industry,” and provide job opportunities.”

In other business, the Jury approved a resolution in support of Syrah Technologies LLC participating in the Louisiana Industrial Property Tax Exemption Program from Louisiana Economic Development for the company’s “commercial active anode material production in Vidalia.”

Both the Town of Vidalia and Concordia Parish School Board previously supported the company with resolutions concerning the tax incentives.

Syrah says it has spent $37 million to construct a new manufacturing facility in Vidalia that became operational in 2019 and that it “is considering an expansion project” in Vidalia “that could bring over $137 million of investment dollars and 30 new full time permanent (LA-domiciled) jobs pay, on average, over $55,000 per job.”

Headquartered in Australia, Syrah opened in Vidalia in 2018. It produces graphite anode materials for batteries in electric vehicles and other products. The company is operating in a 50,000-square-foot industrial building formerly occupied by a company that processed rubber.

Expansion will be on land Syrah owns adjacent to the existing building.

Paul Jahn of Syrah said the market for the company’s product is growing 25 percent annually. He said the company is the first producer of graphite anode materials outside Asia.

Jurors questioned whether Syrah’s waste products were causing pollution.

Jahn said the company is regulated by state and federal agencies and is in compliance with all regulations.

Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft, who attended the Jury meeting with Jahn, said there had been much misinformation put out by opponents of the operation. He said the town’s sewer lagoon has just been recertified by the Department of Environmental Quality.

“We’ve very excited for this company,” Craft said.

Jahn said Syrah was doing business with 60 local companies and drawing employees from the local labor force. 

In other action, the Jury agreed to enter into a contract with Enterprise Fleet Management to manage the Jury’s fleet.

According to statistics provided by Enterprise Fleet Management, the Jury by partnering with the company would reduce maintenance costs by 76 percent.

Additionally, the company informed the Jury: “Leveraging an open-end lease maximizes cash flow and recognizes equity from vehicles sold. Furthermore, the parish will leverage Enterprise Fleet Management’s ability to sell vehicles at an average of 113% percent above Black Book values. By shifting from actively replacing inoperable vehicles to planning vehicle purchases, the Parish will be able to replace five vehicles year one below budget.”

The company said that 88 percent of the Jury’s “current light and medium duty fleet is over 10 years old.

“Older vehicles have higher fuel costs, maintenance costs, and tend to be unreliable.

“It would take 25 years to cycle out the entire fleet at current acquisition rates.”

The company said it is already partnering with the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Town of Vidalia and the City of Natchez.

The Jury is also looking at hiring Strategic Demographics LLC to provide reapportionment and redistricting services for the parish.

The company will be paid $14,000 in two installments to perform the work.

Additionally, the Jury agreed to give the Lake Concordia Commission the authority to manage the weir that regulates the pool stage of the lake.

Commission member Dixon Cole said the lake is presently at a low stage at 47.8 feet, below the designated pool stage of 48.5 feet.

He said the lake commission would like to be given authority to monitor and maintain the weir at the proper level and make management decisions during high water and big rain events.

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