Hed: Tupelo council adds more limits to Blair trucks
By Philip Moulden
Tupelo City Council members voted Tuesday to restrict truck traffic on Blair Street, but the move fell short of area residents' wishes.
Under the new program, set to begin June 1, cab-trailer rigs hauling sand, gravel or other aggregates would be banned from the street, as would all westbound tractor-trailer traffic. A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. ban would remain for all heavy trucks.
In other action, At-Large Councilwoman Carolyn Mauldin read a scathing statement contending the council has been misled and misinformed by the administration, pointing specifically to the scandal-tinged Ridgeway subdivision project.
"It has become apparent during the course of the past three years that information coming to the council from the mayor's office is (1) too often inadequate, (2) is given at the last minute, and (3) the council is asked to act without proper time to study reports," Mauldin said.
Council members went into an executive session to discuss the Ridgeway project cost overruns, but took no action. The planned $727,000 project, now at a standstill, showed cost overruns of more than $721,000 amid allegations of faulty work and charges for work that wasn't done.
The Blair Street decision generally fell into line with offers made last Friday by leaders of businesses in the nearby Frisco-Reed Industrial Park, who contended that limiting truck travel on Blair would significantly hurt their businesses.
Ward 2 Councilman Sims Reeves and Ward 3 Councilman Smith Heavner protested the action, saying the vote was at cross-purposes to the multimillion dollar Crosstown improvements.
But Ward 4 Councilman Steve Mayhorn, who made the motion, said it was all a majority would support.
"I know this is not pleasing to everybody," Mayhorn said. "(But) If we went with stopping all (truck) traffic on Blair Street, it would have been defeated ... I'd rather get something out of it."
Blair residents, who were adamant about barring all heavy trucks in a meeting of the city Traffic Committee last week, were more pliant Tuesday.
"The residents are ready to allow special exceptions for outgoing concrete trucks," said resident spokesman Spence Kellum.
"Any reduction in the amount of truck traffic on Blair Street will be better than the present amount..." added resident Terry Holcomb.
However, residents still contended that trucks should be required to travel to Main Street at Gloster Street (Crosstown), which now handles 20,000 vehicles a day. It could easily accommodate the 130 trucks that daily travel Blair with only a minute or two delay, Kellum argued.
Industry spokesman David Brevard, president of B&B Concrete, said the proposals offered by his group last week "represented major concessions to the residents."
And Mike Mason, who recently purchased Tupelo Concrete Products in the industrial park, said that acquisition was made in part because of Blair Street access and because of Tupelo's history of being good to business.
In an 8-1 vote, the council approved the appointment of Jeff Barber to the city school board to fill the unexpired term of Billy Crews.
"I really believe we're loading our school board up with medical professionals," complained Heavner, the only opponent. Heavner also said he preferred a "local person" with an education background.
Barber, chief executive officer of North Mississippi Health Services Inc., has lived in Tupelo just 16 months.
"I spoke to a lot of people in the community and they spoke very highly of him, even though he's been here only a short time" said Mayor Jack Marshall, who also noted that Barber's wife is a school teacher.
City Hall referendum
Finance and Administration Director Lynn Norris said officials had confirmed that more than 1,500 people had signed a petition demanding a vote on funding a $9 million project to build a new City Hall on Main Street between Front and Commerce streets.
But Norris said it will probably take many more weeks to determine whether that many signatures are valid voters. In some cases, more than one signature was clearly signed by one person while in other cases the same name was listed twice.
City officials now must go to the county circuit clerk's office to compare all signatures with voter registration cards, Norris said.
"It will be some time (before certification is complete) because the part we've done so far is the easy part," he said
Project opponents, who contend the cost is too high, submitted petitions bearing more than 2,700 names earlier this month to force a referendum on issuing bonds for the project.
The council also approved a contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority guaranteeing the city will continue to purchase power from TVA for at least another 15 years.
The city has had a pact that required 10 years notice for terminating TVA power purchases. The new terms were sought from TVA's power customers in exchange for the agency agreeing to buy power from a proposed lignite coal plant for the next 30 years.
The plant will bring a $500 million investment to north Mississippi, officials said.
In other action, the council agreed to vote at its next session on a recommendation to begin a second five-year phase of the Major Thoroughfare Program and renewal of a 10-mill tax to fund it. If approved, the vote on the tax extension would occur Aug. 6.